Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
Dear Coach Joan,
The fire might have happened a full year ago, but it continues to impact my life and my work. Our family home burned down, we lost everything, and we’re still dealing with the insurance company and builders, not sure we can even afford to rebuild. Living in temporary housing is another stress in my life.
The problem is that I am not as productive or focused at work as I would like to be. Timing is bad as my supervisor is leaving to retire in a few months. For the past five years I’ve assumed I’d be promoted to his position when he left, but now I’m not so sure. I’m afraid to talk to my manager or HR as they act like the fire was a long time ago, and I’m afraid they would see me as weak and not worthy of the promotion if I tell them I feel distracted and stressed out.
Very concerned and hoping you have some helpful ideas.
I am so sorry for your losses, and I want to assure you that you are not the only one in our community who continues to experience the fallout from the fire. As you know, I am a coach, not a psychologist, but I’ve read that it can take years for some people to fully rebound from a trauma. And in your case, you continue to live in uncertainty, which is very stressful.
I highly recommend that you get outside psychological support. You have strong self awareness, and if you sense that your productivity and focus are impaired, you have a right to be concerned. You do not want to miss out on a strategic career opportunity!
Michelle, please refer to my earlier blog post for information on this topic here.
The good news is that there are professionals who can help you, and you can keep it private from your employer. In fact, in our community we have places like the Jewish Free Clinic that provide services for fire victims just like you! (And as their name suggests, the services can be FREE!) You can also go through your own physician to get a referral, but I would like all readers to know that there are free services available in our community for fire victims.
You might be experiencing anxiety or depression that is sapping your energy and distracting you from your normal focus and performance at work. You might need therapy, medication, stress relief activities, or other things.
You also might find that a professional psychologist can suggest a way for you to work with your employer to give you the time and understanding you need for recovery.
Michelle, you have been a professional for many years and now, through no fault of your own, you are impacted by a mental health problem. It is a valid and real problem, and it can be addressed. Hopefully, you will get the support you need to get your work performance back on track.
Onward in your healing, and hoping to hear that you earn your promotion.
Coach Joan Tabb
Please send your career questions to me at:
Dear Coach Joan,
I left the corporate world 3 years ago to run my own consultancy in the publishing world. I felt that with fifteen years of experience, half of that in management, and a good network of colleagues and clients I could go out on my own. I have some specialized skills and did my homework to determine potential clients. All good. But I now have more business than I can handle but I am wary about adding staff. Any thoughts on how to approach growing my business?
Congratulations on going out on your own and sustaining your business for 3 years so far! That is something to be proud of. And you went through the right steps by determining market needs and potential clients before you left. That caution has served you well in the past and that same caution is needed in growing your business going forward. In my experience as both a business owner and coach, here are 3 of your top considerations in growing a staff:
- Determine the tasks you can delegate: Review and study some of your recent projects. What were the tasks that took you a long time but really did not require your high level skills. Were there administrative skills you could delegate to others? Perhaps bookkeeping and clerical aspects of your work. Quantify the time it took you to do those. Project forward how you might have been freed up to take on additional projects if you had some support. Sole proprietorship businesses often grow by hiring an assistant first, and then considering higher level personnel once that support is in place. Ideally, you will have time then freed up to find additional projects.
- Write out a job description: Think though your upcoming projects. Identify the tasks you can delegate and the specific skills required. Think through the education and training level needed for the tasks to be done right. Consider perhaps a person you could train. Also think about that person growing and providing additional skills. Think about the time you will have freed up to possibly do more business development and really grow. Also think logistically about where this person will work. Can they work remote? Is there room for them in your work space? Perhaps look to find inexpensive office space where you can expand?
- Consider a short term contractor or temp first: Walk before you run. When you know you have some good, lucrative project coming up, think about hiring someone on a contract or temporary basis. See how it goes. First try to find people through your own network. Consider a job board at a local college to find a part time student perhaps. Also, see if you can build a staff person into your next contract. Show that you need an assistant and how much that person costs. You might even make it a win-win with your clients as they see that for lesser skills you are employing a lower priced worker and passing the savings on to them. Growing a business can be exciting but it can also be stressful and daunting. It is wise to go slowly, proceed with caution, and be thorough in assessing the exact role and time required for the new staff member. When it is done carefully and strategically, adding staff can be both lucrative and another step in building a larger, more impactful business. Good luck, Dan! Wishes for all the best as you grow your business successfully! Coach Joan
Dear Coach Joan,
Am I the only one getting paranoid during my job search? For the last three months I have sent out over 50 resumes and I have gotten no bites, no interviews. I am applying for jobs I am well qualified for. Should I assume that I have been blacklisted by former employers? I just don’t know how to interpret this rejection …
Sad in Santa Rosa,
No, you are not the only one feeling really bad about getting no responses to your online job search. It can be very depressing to feel as though you are being rejected before you’ve even had a chance to be interviewed.
The reality is that many, many people opt to submit their resume online and companies are overwhelmed with submissions. And sadly, unless you have the exact qualifications they are looking for you will often get no response, not even a rejection note. Is this right? Of course not! You have taken the time to submit your resume and possibly (hopefully) a cover letter explaining your enthusiasm for the organization and the position, and your key qualifications and how they align with the job requirements.
But, we live in a very competitive environment, and organizations do tend to be more opportunistic than considerate. Yes, this is my opinion, but it is backed up with many years of seeing candidates experience exactly what you are talking about.
That said, we in the career business strongly recommend that you get up from behind your computer and start getting connected with real people who can influence your job search in a real way. How might you do that?
- Professional Associations: Google to find professional, local organizations in your field. There are organizations for almost every industry from engineering to sales to marketing to manufacturing to hospitality and more…. The people who run these groups are typically professionals who are volunteering to play leadership roles and who are interested in advancing knowledge and education in their field. They often enjoy networking and helping others. You can go to their web sites and find upcoming meetings and I recommend calling ahead to introduce yourself to a couple of the leaders, and offer to volunteer at an event. They will often invite you to come free to your first meeting. Show your enthusiasm and meet people who can help your job search.
- Job Support Groups: Almost every town and city has some kind of MeetUp and job support groups. You can check out your local chamber of commerce and even ask at your local library. There are often employment centers, too. These offer a way to meet people and work together on your job search, on your resume and career tools, interview skills etc. It helps to have support and accountability in the process. And you never know who knows someone at the companies you are aiming for. Having your resume delivered in person rather than online offers a much better chance of you being considered for the job.
- Confidence Cards: The opposite of being paranoid is being confident! I suggest you build something I call Confidence Cards. Use about 6 index cards. On one side write down a skill or capability you have. On the other side write out 2-3 examples that demonstrated those skills or capability. Once you’ve completed those you have your Confidence Cards. Discuss them and really take to heart the achievements and capabilities you truly have to offer! No once can take away the perseverance you showed in working and going to school to earn your college degree. No once can take away your research and writing skills that allowed you to do a fine master’s thesis. No one can take away your having reached quota in your sales job for 6 quarters in a row. Own your achievements, articulate and be prepared to share them when networking and interviewing.
The job search process can be a difficult time and see it as a real JOB. Take control. It is about YOU owning your capabilities, building your confidence based on real skills and achievement. Then, you must get out there to connect with people who can then connect you with opportunity. As I always say to my clients:
READINESS + OPPORTUNITY = SUCCESS
Work hard to be ready, Jan. Keep yourself pumped up! Project confidence grounded in true achievements and skill. You will find and create opportunity this way!
Onward to finding a great job,
Coach JoanRead more
by Joan Tabb in Uncategorized
Dear Coach Joan,
I’ve been really frustrated as my job search stretched out way too long. So I’ve taken a contract job, but am bored out of my mind! I know it’s better to be employed and have structure and income, but are there ways to make it a better situation? I feel that I’m sinking….
I applaud you in moving to Plan B. It is not fun or nearly as rewarding as getting your ideal job. But you have made a mature and wise decision to get to work, even if it is boring work. As you said, you now have structure and income. Plus, I would contend you have more opportunity than you realize! Try to put yourself in a growth mindset vs a locked mindset.
Let’s look at three examples of clients who made the most of their contract work. They put themselves in a growth mindset. Perhaps their experiences will give you, and other readers, ideas. When it comes to our work lives, all motivated people wants to feel challenged, stimulated and that they are using their talents and skills. But you can find creative ways to get into a growth mindset:
- Alan became a car salesman. Alan graduated from college with a creative writing degree and wanted to get a job in an ad agency. He applied for over 100 jobs and though he did get a few interviews, he never got the job offer. After 6 months he was frustrated, out of money and really needing to get to work! His friend’s Dad owned a car dealership and offered him a job. He always liked and respected this man but never saw himself in sales or in the car business. But it was the only offer on the table. He took the job and had the good fortune of having a manager who instilled in him the understanding that any job that is worth having, can be done with a good attitude and with an openness to growing and developing. Alan shadowed this successful car salesman for the first 3 weeks during which time he also had some online training. After working his first week, he made a sale. He couldn’t believe the rush of happiness and satisfaction he got from the sale! He continued on, making the most of each opportunity to learn and develop. During his third year he sold a car to the owner of an ad agency who was so impressed with him that he offered him an interview as a copywriter (advertising writer) and got the job! He now works full-time in the ad agency but part-time in at the car dealership to boost his income.
- Suzy worked as a supermarket clerk. Suzy lost her long time job as the office manager of a busy medical office when the office closed. She was in her late 50s and whenever she interviewed for jobs in other medical offices she lost out to younger people who had lower salary requirements. She was frustrated and disappointed, but the reality of needing work sunk in. When she saw a help wanted sign in her local supermarket she applied and got the job. In fact, she gave it her best and due to her excellent customer facing work at the medical office she distinguished herself as a prize employee and she was promoted three times in five years. She is now a supervisor at the store and enjoying her work. Again, she told herself to give it her all and her positive attitude and skills paid off!
- Ben is doing data entry with an MBA. Ben earned his MBA and set his sights on getting a data analyst job in the high tech field. He’s originally from China and has a strong accent and feels it is holding him back from getting the higher level positions that he’s applied for. In fact, he got feedback that his accent was problematic. So he looked reality squarely in the face and decided to get whatever job he could in finance, even data entry, while devoting evening hours to working on improving his accent. Even though his day job is boring, he knows he is progressing in his English tutoring each evening. Additionally, he has made some friends at the company and when he reaches a certain level of language skill, the company will interview him for a higher level position.
Yes, Bob, it can be frustrating to have a boring job. But see it for what it is. Identify the skills gaps that are in the way of getting to the next level and know that you are working day by day to be positive and growing in the ways that you can. Look at the grass that comes up in the cracks in the sidewalk….find ways to GROW, whatever your job or situation. You will feel a lot better once you have built GROWTH and HOPE into your career life!Read more
Dear Coach Joan,
After two menial jobs after college, I have finally landed an entry level position at a large company and this should put me on the professional track. I was told to actively network to find new opportunities and make helpful professional connections. But I really don’t know how to get started. After three months, my network is limited to my manager and the four other people on my team. How do I get to know others at the company?
Thank you for any advice. I have been patient so far, paying my dues at two boring jobs, and now I really want to get ahead and use my talents.
Congratulations on landing a job that looks like there’s a path to advancement! And now you want to know how to best find and create opportunities. Building a strong network is the way! (In addition to doing excellent work, too, naturally.) The fact that you reached out to a seasoned career coach for advice, shows me that you know how to formulate the questions and you directed them at the the appropriate resource to get the information you need. Good going!
OK, here are the top four strategies I suggest you employ in your networking efforts at your new company. These are proven moves that have worked for other ambitious people. Try them out for yourself:
- The Training Department: Discuss with your manage that you are ambitious and would like to develop professional skills. Ask him or her for some examples of skills that would be helpful in putting you on track for advancement. They would be things like, presentation skills, management skills or technical skills in your particular area. Most large companies have a training department. Ask your manager for approval to sign up for classes. In those classes you will meet other aspiring employees, typically from across the company. Get to know them. Make friends, make lunch dates. Find out more about what they do. The more colleagues and friends you have in your company, the more influencers you have in making recommendations for you to move forward. They might also know about new job openings before they are posted. By taking classes with other employees you are both building skills and growing your network.
- Informational Interviews with other Managers in the Company: Again, let your manager know that you are looking to become better acquainted with the various departments, functions and people in the company. Ask her or him to suggest departments and manager who might be good for you to get to know. Develop a list of some thoughtful questions to show you have done your research and really want to understand more. These managers will be impressed with your initiative. Start with departments who work more closely with your functional area.
- All -Employee Company Meetings: Many companies have what is called All-Hands Meetings. That is where all employees are called together to listen to updates and new plans from the upper management. Smart employees make themselves visible at these meetings by asking smart questions. This way you get the visibility of the upper management folks and can then follow up with a 1:1 to get to know them better. Expand your network to high levels in the company!
- Organized Company Activities:These can range from athletic teams to Toastmasters (to learn public speaking skills) to lunch time yoga, exercise and walking groups. Join groups that interest you. When I was a manager I always asked my employees about their extra curricular interests and often employees would team up to play tennis, form book clubs and more. Yes, don’t overlook the relationships you can build with the members of your own department. We often think we know them well just by working together, but by enjoying outside activities together you can build trust and further the relationships.
- Be friendly! Say hello to other employees while walking in the halls at work, getting on the elevator, eating in the cafeteria! Be opportunistically friendly and helpful. Many serendipitous career opportunities occur because employees just happen to run into one another and start conversation. Many companies have beer busts or ping pong tables or outdoor seating to encourage friendliness and casual meet ups that can turn into business and career opportunities! I’ve had clients who’ve met their future manager when making small talk in the parking lot! I always tell clients: Readiness + Opportunity = Success!! Always be ready for opportunity!!
Yes, Amy, in addition to doing careful, thorough and timely, creative work, you need to reach out to get to know people in your company. Through making friends and colleagues you will be privy to important happenings, new events, and new job opportunities. Additionally, it is a lot more fun and rewarding to work in a place where you have a strong network.
Onward in your network building and career development, Amy!
Coach JoanRead more
I earned my MBA six months ago and have yet to find the right job that will challenge me and allow me to use my new skills and knowledge. However, I have been offered a 3-month contract position to do work that is in my area of finance, but significantly below the level I am seeking. Should I accept this position? I am afraid it will distract me from my job search.
I have to say that I lean heavily toward you accepting the short term contract position. In my years as a career and executive coach, I see how powerful the position of being currently employed is during the job search. Being unemployed, one is perceived as coming from a position of weakness. It is imperative to show that you are involved and active in your field.
I know that your ego and your bank account are not appreciating lower level work. Naturally! However, once you are working, you are ‘in the game’, you have a structured work life and you are perceived as part of the world of commerce. And in your case, you are actually having the opportunity to work in your field, excellent. A tougher call is whether one should take a low level temporary position that is completely out of one’s field. But that, too, can be a good move in certain situations. For instance, I had a client in marketing who was getting very depressed being on the sidelines. This was during a major financial downturn. The competition for jobs in his field was intense and he was getting few interviews, let along job offers. I saw he was emotionally sinking. His friend saw a help wanted sign at the local coffee shop and suggested he consider it. His wife was apprehensive, thinking this would peg him as a low level barista, making it impossible for him to ever secure a professional level job again. But the opposite happened. He loved being a barista!! He was out and among people, he’s a highly social guy who enjoyed the interactions with customers and he had a structured life and a place to go each day!
The upshot is that a few months later, in getting in deeper conversations with one of his regulars at the coffee shop, he found a new job in marketing! So the other benefit to taking a job, even at a lower level is that you have possibility of exposure to new people and new employment opportunities! I always say, Readiness + Opportunity = Success! So even if you are serving coffee, you have the chance to put your best foot forward, get to know people, show your curiosity and friendliness and you just never know who you’ll meet and who you’ll impress.
Larry, I think you need to consciously put aside your ego and get out there and get to work!
And please remember, you should also keep your hat in the ring for more professional level positions. You will still have plenty of hours in the day for your job search. You can still interview at lunchtime or after or before work. So tell yourself you are getting out there, you are active and involved in the world and you are aspirational, too, seeking better opportunities while keeping busy and being a contributor!
The next question you might have is, what to do if you get a professional job offer and the organization wants you to start right away? In that case you need to consider offering your current employer two weeks notice. You do not have to stay all three months, but you do need to provide the customary two week notice so they can backfill your position. And your future employer should understand that you have integrity and you shows respect for all employers.
Larry, life is not always fair or easy. And good timing is not always on our side. It is wonderful that you earned your MBA and that you are now qualified for higher level professional work.
But sometimes one has to look at one’s career as a stair-step process and by working, even in a lower level position, you are progressing upward!
Best to you Larry,
News Flash: Your company has been bought, sold or merged,
Yes, confidence does make all the difference in the world, especially in the world of career development and management. And I don’t mean false confidence and bravado. That is never attractive and never a winning stance, in any area of life. But I do mean the kind of confidence that comes from true ownership of what one has achieved, especially when perseverance, discipline and hard work were involved. The problem is that many people haven’t taken the time to truly exercise their confidence muscle. And by that I mean taking the time to reflect on your true achievements and how they might translate into positive impact and value add for an employer.
How to begin exercising your confidence muscle:
- Review your educational achievements: Whatever the level of education you have achieved, reflect back to the times you were challenged, stretched, worked really hard and succeeded. It could be in a challenging math class where you learned to rely on the help of classmate for whom the material came easy. But you recognized you needed additional resources, sought them out, used them and met your goal of learning the materials. That shows you stepped up to a challenge, didn’t back down and persevered until you found a way to succeed. Perhaps you’ve earned a graduate degree and had to write a thesis. The work may have seemed daunting at the start but you broke it down into manageable pieces, assembled a project plan and worked hard and diligently to complete a winning thesis. You are starting to see that your exercising a confidence muscle that has to do with standing up to problems and finding ways to solve them. All employers are attracted to problem solvers and this might be a way to show that you are strong and confident and have a track record as a problem solver.
- Review your career achievements: Again, whatever level of employment you have gotten to you have had some achievements. Perhaps you are on an entry level job and you have had to deal with difficult front line customers. How have you handled your frustration with difficult customers. Think back to times you had to be especially patient and use skills and strategies that you learned in some corporate training on your job. Write out some examples of how you’ve done good work like this. Perhaps one of the vendors you work with has commented to your supervisor that you are always reliable and thorough in all of your work. That should build your confidence muscle. Those are admirable skills! If you have been a manager for years you might have had direct reports who developed beautifully under your supervision and have gone on to higher level positions. Have them write a recommendation on your Linkedin profile and save a copy for yourself that you can use in your next job search process.
- Identify the key attributes that really define you: This is a key step in exercising your confidence muscle! Look back at both your educational and career achievements. Circle the ones that are most meaningful to you and use adjectives to define what qualities they represent. You might come us with something like: I am a unique combination of resourcefulness, analytical skills and management expertise. Then, have 2-3 examples to explain how you fill out those capabilities.It is vital to recognize and know how to articulate your value-adds in your career. The best way to go about it is to learn how to exercise your confidence muscle. That muscle is based on real use and examination of the things you have done and the capabilities you bring to work. Onward in strengthening your confidence muscle and learning to move forward with your proven strengths.
Hope you are enjoying your summer,
Whether it’s your first job fresh out of school, a new job mid-career, or the last position in your career, there are ripe opportunities for you when you are starting a new job. It’s a new beginning and you don’t need not bring any negative baggage from your past. You can strategically plan to bring new, smart and wise behaviors.
You can write your script your way! When you are the newbie in the organization you can ask a lot of questions. You can introduce yourself and as a newcomer with a fresh slate, you can create the reputation you want to have.
If you had false starts or some bad professional relationships, here is you chance for positive beginnings.
New jobs truly offer opportunities for new beginnings. If you had trouble with some of your relationships at work before, or made some mistakes on the job, here is your chance to start over.
Here are four things to think about when starting a new job:
- YOUR STORY – How you introduce yourself, your capabilities and interests matters. It should be intentional. Reflect and be ready to talk about what attracted you to the organization and why you are excited at the opportunity to be contributing to it. You also want to talk about your past experiences and or credentials. Again, be deliberate on what you choose to share about yourself. Never say anything negative about your past employers or colleagues. The old adage applies, if you don’t have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.
- PREPARE SOME THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS: You want to learn more about this new organization. You want to know where the power lies and how the winds are blowing. You need to find out; what’s happening here! The company and the position are described a certain way when you are interviewing, but once you actually start, you want to probe and learn more. You can ask general questions about what they perceive as the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities. You can ask them what they see as the success factors for people who do well in the organization.
- FUTURE GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES: You want to find out how you can be of more and more value in the company/organization. It’s good to find out if they have an internal training and development group that you can take classes with. Let your manager know you are interested in growing and learning more; especially skills that can help you advance on the job. Make sure to work hard and work smart to make excellent first impressions.
- NETWORK AND CREATE ADVOCATES: Be friendly, supportive and helpful. Introduce yourself to your peers and other managers in the company. Let people know about your specific capabilities and desire to contribute. If there are any extracurricular activities for the employees such as volunteer days, sports teams, etc., become a part of those and let people see that you are energetic and want to be a part of the fabric of the organizational culture. Watch carefully and try to pick up on the corporate culture to fit in. Notice things from how people dress to the common work hours to how much people share about their personal lives and how they set up their work/life balance. Yes, new jobs, just like new relationships, are the chance to start over thoughtfully and wisely. Learn from your past, bring forward the strategies that helped you get ahead, and shed the behaviors that didn’t support you or your career. Most of all, be deliberate, be open, helpful and focused. As I always say: Well begun is half done! All the best in your new job, Coach Joan