How “Now-I-Get-It” Discoveries Expand Career Savvy

Careers are mysterious. We skip naively into them, assuming that our generally optimistic assumptions about the company, our boss, and coworkers are true. Then wham, the gilt flies off the lily.

That’s okay, actually. Careers teach us to pay attention continuously.

A pulse exists below the surface of every business. It may be:

  • Unseen or foreign to us
  • Outside our understanding
  • Separate from the work we perform daily

That pulse drives business all decision-making, actions which include both simple and wildly complex variables.

Directly or indirectly, that business pulse impacts us in ways we either like or don’t. When we “get” what’s going on, we’re better positioned to respond or react in ways that are good for us, building our savvy.

What you see v. what is

Marketing is the juice. The business markets its goods and services for profit; we market our capabilities for reward.

We are also marketing targets even when it’s not obvious that we are. When we feel the pulse of it, we’re likely on the verge of a “now-I-get-it” moment.

Consider this: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but several colleges have stepped out lately  in some wild, new football uniform styles and designs—from helmets to jerseys to shoes.

Journalist Mo Rocca did a piece for the CBS Sunday Morning Program (January 8, 2012) featuring the gridiron wear of the Oregon Ducks who won the Rose Bowl. Rocca’s piece described the Oregon Ducks as looking “less like football players and more like comic book superheroes, sporting mirrored ‘special edition’ helmets that had never been worn before.”

In fact Rocca reports:

This regular season alone, the Ducks wore eight different jerseys, six pants, five helmets and four different shoe and sock colors . . . a staggering number of possible combinations.

The Oregon football team isn’t the only one sporting snazzy new unis: Notre Dame and the University of Maryland did too.

On the surface, you would think the change to more high-tech gear was strictly for on-field performance, safety, and durability. Well, as Coach Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

ESPN’s Paul Lukas explains to Rocca the story behind the new uniforms move:

…when you and I were kids, you couldn’t go and buy a jersey. That market didn’t exist…They hadn’t figured out that someone would drop $200 for a polyester shirt.

And…now that they know people will do that, ‘Well, you already bought this year’s jersey. Well, what if we change our jersey next year?’ You’d go and buy another one.

The “now-I-get-it” discovery is that this change was about merchandizing and not just great TV optics.

Savvy up

There’s a secondary story about most everything in business, that’s why you need to be savvy to the underlying pulse and needs of the company you work for.

Think of the last time you didn’t get hired or promoted. It’s likely the decision wasn’t all about you. The successful candidate may have been:

  • Representative of an under-represented constituency
  • Identified for a growth assignment
  • Someone’s favorite
  • Passed over once before and due a second chance
  • A non-controversial choice

We all want to think hiring is purely about talent and capabilities, but that would deny the existence of the pulse.

Human beings create and lead businesses in service to other human beings who buy from them. The human element creates the pulse. To succeed ourselves, we need to keep our fingers on it!

Photo from Monica’s Dad via Flickr

Bankrupt or Flush with Transferable Skills? A Telling Story

Transferable skills get us hired or promoted. They’re our career currency. Without them, there’s no deal.

The more transferable skills we have the more valuable we are. Resumes market them. Interviews showcase them. 

Can you list your top ten, most marketable transferable skills, right now?

Bankrupt or flush? 

Transferable skills are attached to us all the time, not just at work. It’s time to get a handle on your bank of skills.

Pick a recent life event and write it down.

As you uncover your transferable skills, insert them like I’ve done here.

Casey, down for the count 

I start every day (dependability) in the barn, feeding my horse, cats, and Casey, my seven-year-old, Lab-golden retriever mix. Casey’s a busy dog, full of energy who, as a puppy, wouldn’t tolerate being a house dog. The barn was way more interesting. So she got her way.

About two weeks ago, I noticed that she wouldn’t eat (attention to detail) her breakfast. That happens sometimes, so I went about my other chores. Then I noticed that when she tried to go into the horse stall, her back end faltered. Three minutes later she was down and couldn’t get up.

My large animal vet was at a conference, my small animal vet on vacation. I suspected I didn’t have much lead time (problem assessment) to get help for Casey.

There is a veterinary hospital about four miles from me where I had never been a client. I called (decision-making) at 6:30 AM to learn they opened at 7.

I lifted 79-pound Casey into my car, drove to the vet hospital, and waited in the parking lot for someone to show up (assertiveness).

The receptionist was the first to arrive. I explained that I wasn’t a client but had a dire need (communication). She looked at me kindly and explained that she didn’t have an appointment open until 10:40, but she’d let the doctor know when she came in at 9:30. I scheduled the appointment as a back up (planning), took a deep breath (stress management), went home and waited.

I parked the car in the shade and brought Casey some water (safety and initiative). She lay quietly. I took a shower so for my next appearance at the vet hospital, I wouldn’t look so shabby (brand management).

At 8 AM the phone rang. The veterinarian was there and would see me. Relief.

It took me and a technician to carry Casey into an exam room (collaboration). The veterinarian examined and then admitted Casey. After some blood tests, it was clear she had Lyme disease (big surprise, I had it and my horse too) plus a seriously low potassium count.

The decision was to keep Casey overnight with IV fluids. I received several update calls from the veterinarian and one that unnerved me a bit. Since the hospital didn’t have 24-hour coverage, did I want them to transfer Casey to a monitoring facility about 35 minutes away (risk assessment)?

I opted to keep her where she was, thinking it would be less stressful  (decision-making and accountability).

The next day the vet called saying that Casey was a “new dog,” on her feet, hungry, and wagging her tail. She could go home with medications and a few restrictions.

The technician hugged me when she brought Casey to me. I struggled to hold myself together (self-control).

Next I wrote a commendation letter to the veterinary hospital owner, the case veterinarian and technician who cared for Casey (communication).

I admit I was braced for the worst. I’ve been through other events here at the farm that didn’t have a happy ending. Each time I have to face uncertainty, I need to draw on those experiences and transferable skills for strength.

Finding yours

 You have your own transferable skills that you undoubtedly take for granted since you’re using them without thinking.

It’s time to make your transferable skills part of your consciousness and your conversation. They are the building blocks of your career and your business fitness. Uncover them and use them well.

Don’t Get Too Big for Your “Bossypants.” Tina Fey Says So.

It happens. One day you wake up and you’re the boss. Suddenly, all the pieces came together and you’re in charge whether you prepared for the moment or not.                     

This happened, in a fashion, to Tina Fey, comedy writer and comedienne, known for her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. As a woman in comedy, she faced unique career obstacles, particularly from some male comics who were commited to the notion that “women aren’t funny.”  She’s clearly debunked that. 

In her book, Bossypants, Fey writes about her family dynamics and career path, sharing her often tongue-in-cheek discoveries about what it takes to be the boss—actually a good boss. 

Do you have what it takes? 

Overcoming preconceived notions is often a boss’s toughest assignment.   

Fey writes: “…ever since I became an executive producer of 30 Rock, people have asked me, ‘Is it hard for you, being the boss?’ and ‘Is it uncomfortable for you to be the person in charge?’ You know, in the same way they say, ‘Gosh, Mr. Trump, is it awkward for you to be the boss of all these people?’ I can’t answer for Mr. Trump, but in my case it is not.” 

It’s one thing to be confident and another to be arrogant when you’re the boss. 

Fey adds, “Contrary to what I believed as a little, girl, being the boss almost never involves marching around, waving your arms, and chanting, ‘I am the boss! I am the boss!’”  

There are plenty of bosses out there all puffed up about their importance, power, and authority. They’re wearing the bossypants we’d like to set on fire. 

Good bosses focus their attention on what it takes to help employees do their jobs well with the least amount of hassle, and not about their royal boss-ness. 

It’s about the cast. 

In many ways, employees are the boss’s supporting cast. Without them nothing gets done.  

According to Fey, “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

 Hiring is the most important task for any boss. Good hires build cohesive teams, ensure quality performance, and develop a bench. 

When bosses hire well, they make their lives easier, but only if they know how to lead, delegate, and provide feedback. When their bossypants are too tight, bosses micro-manage, interfere, and criticize. 

Hence Fey’s “Bossypants Lesson #183: You Can’t Boss People Around If They Don’t Really Care.” 

Seeing the real picture 

Things are not always what they‘re said to be in any career and that was certainly true for Fey. She writes in Bossypants: 

“This is what I tell young women who ask me for career advice. People are gong to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another. ‘You’re up for a promotion. If they go with a woman, it’ll be between you and Barbara.’ Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.” 

That’s career revelation number one. Then she writes: 

“When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism … ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way….

 If the answer is yes…Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.” 

You are your own boss, whether you admit it to yourself or not. You own the job you do for your employer for as long as you have it. 

Make your bossypants fit you. 

Your life is your business, making you a full-fledged entrepreneur, controlling all the choices that impact your life. You might also be the boss by position in your organization. 

If you’re wearing bossypants that are too big or too small, you may need to make a switch.  Finding the right fit can make a big difference.

Photo from George Arriola via Flickr

Employees Underperforming? Get Their Attention! | Supervise for Accountability

Work’s piling up. You’re worn out. Finally, you get the okay to hire.  You’re pumped. Relief is in sight. Truth is: Employees are work. Actually, they’re your job.

Employees, especially new ones,  mean that you’re faced with:

  • Job orientation and training
  • “What do I do now” questions
  • Reluctance to make decisions when you’re not around
  • “I didn’t think that was my job” disclaimers 

So where’s your relief? You’re not totally free of the work you hired for, because it’s still in your head, and the people you hired to do it feel like an added burden.

Take heart. The time you invest developing your employees will deliver big rewards.

Be clear about employee accountabilities. 

The biggest mistake is hiring people to complete a string of tasks. Look at your job descriptions. My guess is that they describe responsibilities, duties, and/or tasks.

If you want employees to lighten your load and add value to your business, hold them accountable for results. That means the tasks/duties they complete must be the means to the ends that you need.

Here’s how you link tasks and accountabilities (also referred to as results or outcomes):

  • Process customer claims (task) within 48 hours, ensuring a positive interactive experience for the customer (result)
  • Maintain product inventory (task), ensuring availability to meet monthly demand (result)
  • Market services to clients (task), averaging 5% conversion to sales monthly (result)
  • Complete administrative reports (task) within the first 5 days of the new month (result) 

Employees need to know what they are expected to contribute to the success of the business. It’s not just about being busy doing tasks. It’s about doing work that counts.

The next big question, of course, is: “How do supervisors and business owners motivate employees to do their best work?”

Being “in” on things matters most. 

Repeatedly, studies have been done on what motivates employees. We always think that must be money, but it isn’t. Actually, we all want to feel like we’re important enough to be in the know.

Supervisors who want to bring out the best in their employees share relevant information and make them part of what’s going on.

They can pump up the motivation and ability of employees to do their “best” when they:

  • Engage employees in decision-making about things that will affect them (i.e., scheduling, work processes, equipment purchases, working conditions)
  • Involve them in the root cause analysis of work that “went wrong” (i.e., customer problems, accidents, equipment failure, miscommunications)
  • Ask them for ideas, innovations, and insights (i.e., new products, procedures, work processes)
  • Give them visibility with customers, vendors, suppliers, and management
  • Take them to see similar business operations in other companies or to visit departments they impact in their own company
  • Give them business cards, reminding them that they are representatives of the company and impact its brand

 Talk to your employees. 

Reinforce each employee’s accountabilities monthly. That means a face-to-face dialogue about:

  • how they are doing
  • what they may be uncertain about
  • how ready they are to take on more responsibilities
  • what help they need from you, and
  • what they can do to get better 

This is where the two of you talk about your expectations and how you can  support to each other. It is not a performance review;  it a conversation.

Becoming the “best” is a team effort. 

Setting the bar attainably high is the best thing you can do for your business and your employees. Employees who think they’re being set up for failure won’t make the effort. Those who believe their supervisor is counting on them to succeed will knock themselves out to deliver. If that isn’t the case, then that employee is the wrong fit and may need to move on.

Supervisors who use the smart moves for achieving business fitness with their employees create an individual development culture that delivers success all around. Nothing beats an employee team making it happen!

What approaches have you experienced that helped employees become their “best”?  What made them work? Any cautions? Thanks.

Job Search Not Working? | Get Fearless

Out of a job? Hate your job? It’s time to get fearless. 

It’s useless to say, “There aren’t any jobs out there for me.” It’s pointless to grumble about being stuck in a job that’s boring. These are self-fulfilling prophesies. If you believe it, it will be so. 

My advice: Stop it! No more negative self-talk. It’s not making you feel any better. It’s not moving you forward. It’s not moving you at all. 

It’s a waste to be your own worst enemy. 

Yes, the economy isn’t pretty. The jobs are scarce. A lot of jobs aren’t fulfilling. Actually, they can suck the life out of us when the work is about following the rules and fitting in. (Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin, gives you the skinny on this!) 

The only way prisoners get out of prison before their time is by escape. If we want career freedom, we need to go the escape route. 

There is no one-size-fits-all for prison escape. Each one is unique. We’re unique. But when looking for new jobs, we just do what everyone else does:

  • Go to Monster for job postings
  • Attend job fairs and respond to ads
  • Ask around

 Yada Yada Yada 

Figure out what kind of work (not job) you want to do and find it. 

Jobs don’t come with our names on them. They are about work we like or work we don’t. We’re happiest when we’re doing the right work. 

Here’s what we generally want in an ideal job: 

  • A company we respect
  • A work location that suits us
  • People we fit with
  • Work focused on either people, data, or things 

We need to find the people who can recommend, hire, or promote us for these jobs, so we can pursue the career path we want. 

Remember is this: It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. 

You’ve got to meet the right people on-line, in the flesh, by Skype, or over the phone. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites give you access to people who work in the companies that appeal to you, doing the work you want. This means taking the time to meet them and develop a connection. 

Here’s how it worked for me before social media made things easier

After 10 years teaching high school English, I was hungry for a new challenge. My knowledge of the business world was nil. I was intimidated by men (yes, they were all men) in three-piece suits and by those tall buildings. I was also sure no big company would hire a teacher. 

I read What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles about creative ways to job hunt. 

I wrote a letter to the human resource managers of five companies headquartered in my area, explaining my concern about the weak writing skills of high school grads. I asked if I could meet with them to find out what companies did to address that deficiency in new hires. (I assumed college hadn’t fixed the problem.) 

Each business invited me in almost immediately. I learned about their operations, their style, and their issues. I got over being intimidated. In the course of things, someone (I still don’t know who) gave a copy of my resume to the manager of the region’s electric utility company that ultimately hired me. I never had to apply. By the time I was interviewed, I felt like I belonged. 

Today, you can take steps to get discovered through blogs, tweets, and Facebook fan pages. From 80% to 90% of jobs, especially the good ones, are gotten because of networking. You have to be patient, creative, and fearless—that’s why “staying connected” is so important to becoming business fit. It just makes a huge difference.

 Do you have a fearless career experience to share? It would help give courage to others.

Been Burnt by a Bad Hire? |10 Red Flags for Interviewers

Trying to hire the right person can keep you up at night. Why? A bad hire can quickly turn employee harmony into raucous noise and tank  confidence in you.  

If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find it. If you don’t, oh well! 

The biggest mistake hiring managers make is not paying attention during the interview. Sounds incredible, right? 

Too often, interviewers are focused on themselves, specifically their: 

  • greeting, hand-shake, and small talk
  • style of questioning
  • pitch about the job and the company 

In other cases, they become so absorbed in the content of the candidate’s answers, they forget to: 

  • Ask good follow-up questions that probe for richer detail
  • Notice what isn’t being said—the information left out
  • Watch the non-verbal communication 

When you don’t pay attention, you miss important stuff—like the “red flags.” 

Here are my top ten “red flags” when you’re face-to-face with a candidate: 

  1. Too much “we”: You need to know what results the candidate achieved in prior jobs, not about the mysterious “we.”  Ask the candidate specifically, “What did you do?” and expect an “I” answer. 
  2. Rambling: Candidates that can’t grasp the point of your question and answer it concisely are probably unprepared, poorly qualified, or in a knot. This is telling, right? Your questions, after all, are about them not nuclear physics. 
  3. Pitching: Inflated egos generally don’t integrate well. You need an individual who explains factually their measurable and observable achievements. Results make the grade, not puffery. 
  4. Vagueness: Generalizations don’t cut it. Keep probing until you get the information you want. Tell the candidate that you want them to answer your questions this way:  briefly explain the situation s/he faced, describe sequentially the steps taken, and state the outcome achieved.
  5. Overly casual or tense posture: An interview is an important business meeting. To treat it too casually is either a cover or a show of disregard. Being too tense often indicates lack of preparation, self-confidence, or experience. Amp! 
  6. Negativity: A candidate who is negative or critical about a former company, boss, or colleague still has resentments that may carry over to a new position. Negative comments show poor judgment. 
  7. Focus on salary and benefits: Interviews are about the work. Employment offers are about the goodies. Candidates with pressing questions about salary, time off, benefits, and working conditions reveal much about their priorities.  
  8. Short-sightedness: Candidates that over-explain the details of their work without mentioning the implications lack the big picture view that makes them a good prospect for future growth. 
  9. Poor questions: A candidate that asks insightful questions at the end of the interview shows you his/her understanding of the job, the company, and the protocol going forward. That’s what you’ll want day to day. 
  10.  Lacks fit: If the candidate doesn’t connect with you, chances are s/he won’t fit with your work group. S/he doesn’t have to be like your other employees but should have a compatible style and collaborative nature. 

Your final decision has big implications. No one wants to repeat the hiring process any time soon if they don’t have to. There is no fool-proof system, but it’s a fool who doesn’t take time to read between the lines and stop when the “red flags” go up. You’re good to go! 

Do you have a “good hire” or “bad hire” story to share? Lessons learned are always welcomed!   


Got Job Interview Nerves? Fuggedaboudit!


Amazing, how a job interview can make our blood run cold.  

Our ego, sense of self, and value get all tied up in being picked. Our brains gear up wildly to compete, to be the winner! 

I spent a lot of years as a functional hiring manager for a Fortune 500 energy company. The people I hired either worked for me or for departmental colleagues. As a consultant, I still help clients screen resumes and interview. 

Over the years, I’ve hired over 100 candidates myself or as part of selection teams. I thought you should know that, so you’ll believe this: 

More often than not, the person interviewing you is in a major squeeze and feelin’ it! 

Yes, the interviewer, not just you, is feeling the pressure. S/he has a position to fill and chances are it’s been open for longer than anyone would like. That means work isn’t getting done, other staff are picking up the slack, and the manager is feeling the pinch. Someone is undoubtedly squawking. This reality works in your favor, so relax. 

4 Things to Remember When You Sit Down for the Interview 

Curb your nerves by focusing on the needs of the interviewer and not yourself. Here’s why and how: 

1. The interviewer is desperately hoping that you are the right person for the job

That means the interviewer is rooting for you. They want you to do well. They are hoping beyond hope that you will mean the end of their search. They really want you to be the candidate they’ve been looking for, so you will make them a winner. 

2. Your interviewer wants you to relax, so s/he can relax. 

Interviewing isn’t easy. It means asking the right questions, gathering the right information, assessing you correctly, and representing the company positively so you’ll want to work there if chosen. If you’re a visible wreck, you will be a distraction and will take the fun out of the process for the interviewer and yourself. 

3. The interviewer will be grateful for anything you do to make the process go smoothly.

If you approach the interview generously and focus on meeting the needs of the interviewer for crisp and clear answers, you’ll showcase your skills as a communicator and team player. This means being prepared and asking the interviewer if s/he has gotten the needed information.

 4. The interviewer wants the conversation with you to be enjoyable. 

Interviewing is tedious unless the candidate takes the monotony out of it. A candidate with an appropriate sense of humor, a relaxed but alert demeanor, and the ability to use the questions as a way to engage in dialogue about the job is a godsend. That will be you! 

You can’t be more than you are. 

You can’t hire yourself for the job. But you can showcase your business fitness by explaining what you know, the skills you have, and the experiences you’ve banked. Trying to oversell yourself or to compete with candidates you don’t even know is the death knell. 

When you get hired for a job, you’re committing to a relationship with the hiring manager and the company. It’s the job of the interviewer to decide whether or not you and the company are a good fit. 

So be patient and be yourself. 

Candidate selection isn’t just about the interview. 

A lot goes into final hiring decisions and it’s not always about you and your interview. That’s another reason to leave your nerves at home. 

If you have a nerve-soothing perspective to share, please share it in a comment. Thanks.