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Make It Happen
Career Management and Work-Life Balance

August 2005 number 8

Welcome to Make It Happen, companion newsletter to the Leaving the Mother Ship Career Planning book.

Based on your feedback, we've changed the newsletter to a text format. This will mean fewer copies being (improperly) stopped by spam filters, and hopefully a speedier delivery. Stay tuned: in the next few months, we will be experimenting with Blogs and Podcasts; we'll be sure to keep you posted.

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1) If it Quacks Like a Duck...
2) Ask Randall (Glass ceilings, 2nd interview call-backs)
3) Reader Feedback
4) Keep Make It Happen Alive

1) IF IT QUACKS LIKE A DUCK

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck. A relatively silly expression, but it holds clues about why we sometimes find our career stalled. Surprisingly often, I hear complaints from people who feel that they should have been promoted earlier, that they are limited within their jobs, and that often the invisible glass ceiling has prevented them from reaching their potential.

There are many reasons why people don't often reach their career potential: lack of direction, lack of "passion", lack of education, lack of mentors, too political, not a team player, and the list goes on. Some of these can be corrected quite easily. For example, if you are missing some functional knowledge, an appropriate course of education may be able to correct this (eg a seminar, a professional designation, perhaps even an MBA).

Other obstacles may be more challenging: For example, how do you evaluate your career direction? Or rekindle the passion that you may once have had for your work? Or re-look at how you manage a team? You may get help from your mentor, your manager, or perhaps your spouse. Many people consider using a career coach for this type of support as well.

There is a third type of obstacle that also must be addressed: you! Let me explain: each of us has a self-conception that grows with each year of work maturity. This growth actually starts way back in grade school. Do you remember the first day of class in a new grade? The teacher likely told you that since you were in a new grade, that several new things would be expected of you. Each year, you were probably told of the additional expectations. The problem is that once we are in the workforce, we are rarely told ALL of the new expectations each year.

When we look around at those in more senior roles, we often pick up - by osmosis usually - what those expectations are. Some of us have mentors and career coaches who can help by sharing their experience and perspective. Understanding the specific requirements of a job is something that most good managers can and do learn implicitly. The "obstacle" to promotion is intrinsic to how you view yourself, how you portray yourself to others, and therefore how others view you. It's attitudinal, but not in the sense of good attitude-bad attitude.

Many years ago, I worked as a consultant in a large international consulting firm. My title was not yet "manager", and I was beginning to feel a bit frustrated about it. I decided to speak to my manager about the criteria for promotion, and understand where I sat in the process. The conversation was a relatively short one. He told me that he could promote me to a manager, because "I was already a manager". I didn't quite understand the importance of this lesson for some time, but I have since run into it many times since. On a side note, we can all be better managers if we recognize when one of our staff has grown to the next level; my manager recognized it, but it wasn't until I raised the issue that it was addressed.

Another similar story: I was having a conversation with the chief instructor at Karate club, about whether one of my students was ready for promotion to an advanced rank. Once again, it was a relatively short conversation. He told me "they are a brown belt if they are already a brown belt." If it quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck...

The question again came up recently with one of my coaching clients, an extremely talented second-in-charge, who felt that she was ready to step into the most senior role. Unfortunately, there was a question amongst those in her organization as to whether or not she was "ready" for the corner office or not. More than anything else, this was the obstacle that was preventing her from moving ahead. By her actions and attitudes, she didn't instill the confidence of her colleagues and the board.

Often times, when we think about what we really need to do to get ahead, we are held back by the comfortable attitudes and behaviours that we had in our more junior role. Here are some specific ideas that can help you learn how to "quack":

1) Ask yourself before you seek permission to do something: would a person in a more senior role ask for permission? What is the worst that can happen if I just did it?

2) Have you given liberal credit for all of the wins from your group - and taken personal responsibility for the failures?

3) Do you have one or two senior-level mentors in the organization who can help by sharing their knowledge with you? And have you "taken in" one or two more junior level people that you can mentor in turn?

4) Is your clothing and personal grooming appropriate for the level that you aspire to? Look at those in the organization at that level, and guage yourself accordingly.

5) Have you had a frank discussion with your manager about where you should focus your personal and professional development? Have you talked with them about your career plan?

6) Make sure that you model yourself at the next level up in the organization - not two or three levels up. What type of education do they have? How do they relate to others in meetings? How do they dress?

8) Check your ego at the door. Make sure that your confidence doesn't appear as arrogance, especially to your staff and peers that have been responsible for your success to date.

9) Don't forget to go through the Reality Check process to uncover some of your hidden talents - and discover how others have found their success.

2) ASK RANDALL

I don't seem to have a problem getting an interview, but I never get asked back. Any suggestions?

There are many reasons why this might be so:

1) Focus and Competitive Advantage: As an interviewer, you are always looking for the person who is the best fit. Look back at all of your non-call-backs, and ask yourself honestly: from the employer's perspective, were you really a perfect fit? Do you have a history of successfully delivering on the specific requirements of this new job?

If you were an employer, which storyline would you choose: "I've held the role of Director of Marketing for two years; prior to that I was in sales", or "I've held the role of Director of Marketing for two years; prior to that I held a similar role but in a smaller organization. For the last six years, I work with the XYZ charity as Chair of their marketing committee. I've also written articles on marketing strategy in the trade press, and have spoken at the annual marketing awards convention. In addition to my MBA, I also have a masters certificate in marketing management from the local university's business school's executive education department." Guess which candidate would get the call-back? With an exceptionally tight focus built over the longer term, your chances are vastly improved. To determine your competitive advantage, what job could you craft a "killer" answer for?

2) Bait and Switch: Most recruiters can filter out resumes that don't appear realistic, but every so often, an inappropriate candidate slips through. Needless to say, your resume must reflect exactly your experience and accomplishments - no lying by omission, and no lying by commission. Besides being unethical, if you get caught in an "exaggeration", your credibility will be lost forever; and if by some slight chance you are hired, it can be cause for dismissal and possibly legal action. If there is a difference between your resume and you, you must figure out how to close the gap. One suggestion: Ask yourself what your former managers would say if they read your resume. Would they say it was an honest reflection of your contribution? If they would question it, then it's likely that an astute recruiter will too.

3) Poor first impression: I am amazed at the number of candidates that I have met who pay little attention to their appearance or hygiene: clothing that is stained, too revealing, too casual, overpowering perfume or aftershave, strong body odor, unwashed hands, etc. Or sometimes a handshake that is too limp or too strong. While no one will hire you because of your crisp business suit, it is too easy to be disqualified for creating the wrong first impression. Remember, the interviewer is trying to visualize what a customer (or co-worker) might think when they see you for the first time. The name of the game is to make sure that your first impression does not distract from the business at hand: your interview.

4) Poor interview skills: Sometimes it is a challenge to know how to answer different types of questions. How formal/informal should you be? How in-depth should your answer go? How should you address questions when you don't know the answer? How much "personal" information should you reveal? And what is the correct balance between answering questions, and asking them? All of these require a certain degree of experience - which is often difficult to get without interviewing: a chicken-or-egg problem indeed! Two ideas: use a career coach to provide feedback; and try videotaping a mock interview, then doing a self-assessment.

5) Poor research: Interviewers sometimes tire of questions that should be patently obvious through the most basic research. Make sure that you have reviewed public information on the company (available from annual reports, the web site, trade journals, etc), and have done some analysis of the major issues and trends in the industry. Your questions can then validate your analysis, and hone in on the specifics of job.

6) No follow-up: You may have been on par with other candidates, but their follow-up was much better. Remember the following points:
- Timeliness: Demonstrate your responsiveness by example by writing them immediately after the interview.
- Thank the interviewer for their time
- Express your continuing interest (if this is true)
- Clarify any of your answers (if appropriate)
- Ask any additional questions (sometimes risky, but sometimes critical)

I seem to have hit a glass ceiling, and my employer doesn't want to do anything about it. What tactics should I use?

Don't blame the employer: you are in charge of your career, not them.

Make sure to reflect on whether it really is a "glass ceiling" that is preventing you from being promoted. What have others done to earn their promotion? Do they have different educational backgrounds? Have they spent time working on special projects that provided visibility? Have they spent time working in different roles than you? On the other hand, have you run into disputes with your manager? Or have you made any mistakes that have lost money for the company?

Today, most organizations realize that to prosper, promotion should be on merit; unfortunately, there always seems to be at least a few "unenlightened" players out there. If you believe this is the case in your situation, then you have a simple decision to make: stay, fight, or channel your energies elsewhere.

If you are going to stay, then spend time with your manager (and in some cases with an HR group) learning about the criteria for promotion; then craft a plan to address any gaps. When the gaps are addressed, at least you can avoid being disqualified for the position. And learn how to "Quack".

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you certainly can fight the glass ceiling, but recognize that your attention may be diverted from your job, and it is likely that your performance will suffer. And if you win your fight, is this really the type of organization that you want to work at? (Note: taking a principled stand is the only way to stamp out discrimination of any type, but doing so may cost you personally. At the end of the day, you still need to put food on the table.)

The best course of action is realize that whether you stay or go, it is not the employer's responsibility to manage your career, it is yours. So if you feel you can do better elsewhere, then brush off your resume and start the job of looking for your next one. (You will find the "Filling in the Gaps Worksheet", on page 36 of the workbook especially helpful.)

3) READER FEEDBACK

We need your feedback! How have you used the ideas from Make It Happen and Leaving the Mother Ship? Do you have any tips that others would find useful? Let us know your favorite article, and why. And what topics would you like covered in future editions? Let us know at feedback@LeavingTheMotherShip.com.

 

4) KEEP MAKE IT HAPPEN ALIVE

Make It Happen is a free newsletter, supported by you! To keep this newsletter coming, we rely on book sales, speaking fees, and seminar attendance. If you know anyone who would benefit from our message, please let them know. Thanks!

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Copyright 2005 Knowledge to Action Press and Randall Craig. All rights reserved.

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