Career Myths and Mysteries

How to Build your Professional Relationships

By Marti Benjamin, MBA

Certified Career Management Coach

Professional Certified Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

The time to build your professional relationships is long before you need them to work for you. And if you missed that opportunity, the next best time is now!

Coaching clients often say they’ve been too busy working in their current (or last) position to take the time to build their professional network. Now that they want to change careers or land a great new position, their relationships are concentrated entirely within their most current employer. It’s understandable that work-life today can consume so much time and energy that there’s little left for building the future, but that focus on the short-term is a costly mistake.

Include relationship development in your professional life. It’s not an extra-curricular activity for your spare time; it’s your survival plan. The Great Recession taught many suddenly unemployed a harsh lesson about the value of a network. My colleagues and I estimate that about 80% of open positions are never advertised, but filled through network referrals. This is particularly true of technical and professional positions where the hiring manager wants to increase the odds of a successful hire by accessing additional information about candidates and their prior performance. Candidates who have neglected their network development suffer a disadvantage in this environment.

Give First

A good place to start building a strong network of supporters is within your industry. Join appropriate professional associations and participate actively. Help the organization meet its goals by volunteering your time and talent. Your effort will raise your visibility and your credibility as others see you’re willing to contribute to the overall good of the group.

You can also contribute content and assistance through discussion groups on LinkedIn or professional associations. Share your expertise and that of others you come across. Forward (or post) articles and sources of useful data. This isn’t about making yourself the expert as much as showing that you’re actively engaged in learning and developing yourself and your profession. You don’t have to write original content to provide value. (Although if you do, be sure to share it with those who can use it.) You can be the connector—the one who connects others to the people and sources they need to succeed.

Before you ask your professional relationships to do you a favor, make sure you’ve given generously to show your commitment.

Not all Relationships are the Same

I think of professional relationships as a series of concentric circles. At the center are your allies, those 10 – 20 people who recognize your needs and offer assistance without prompting. Your allies would see a possibility, maybe even before you do, and step up to offer an introduction, connection, suggestion or recommendation. Identify your allies and maintain regular contact with them, offering your support frequently.

The next tier of the concentric circles is comprised of your advocates, those with whom you can easily pick up the phone or send a text and they’ll be willing and available to offer whatever help they can. People may move into the advocate tier for a time and then move out again, depending on your frequency of contact, and how much you’re able to add value to their network. Think strategically about which advocates you want to nurture and maintain relationships with over the long-term.

The third tier—the outermost of the concentric circles—is your acquaintances. These are the people you know well enough to greet at a trade show and talk with at a mixer or social event. You likely know something of their professional reputation and them of yours, but you don’t have a close personal or professional relationship. They’re good sources for general industry or company information but they’re unlikely to take action on your part or advocate specifically for you.

Nurture your Network

Consider your professional relationships to be living organisms that require nutrients and light. Your allies need more attention than your acquaintances, in general. If you want to move an acquaintance into an advocate position, increase the value you provide to that individual and contact him/her more often.

Your network is dynamic, always shifting and changing, as your and your contact’s needs change. Be pro-active, define your career direction and create your career action plan. With your path defined, you’ll be in a better position to anticipate what information, support and connections you’ll need and what you have to offer to build reciprocal professional relationships.

If you need help in planning your career direction and defining your professional network strategy, contact me to learn how career coaching can support you in developing your plans.

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life. www.CareerFromHere.com, www.BusinessEnergetix.com.

 

Career Myths and Mysteries

What’s Blocking Your Career Path?

By Marti Benjamin, MBA

Professional Certified Coach | Certified Career Management Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

If only we could choose a career and then set the cruise control function until we reach a richly rewarding work-life! That might be boring for some but for others it would be ideal to choose career direction just once and then never have to think about it again.

Our parents may have been able to approach their careers with a single choice, but with new occupations appearing regularly and traditional jobs giving way to technological improvements the cruise control strategy doesn’t work well. The US Department of Labor predicts that young people graduating from college this year will change careers—not just jobs, but career fields—six or seven times during their work-life. Success in this turbulent environment requires new skills in career management as well as job performance.

Hazardous curves

As you navigate your career path, you’ll almost certainly encounter obstacles along the way. These barriers often appear without warning and catch you unprepared to think about a new direction or a different route to your destination.

Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 (which I still think was not so great!), tens of thousands of people who thought their position or their industry were safe, have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. Even those who retained their jobs experienced a level of unfamiliar uncertainty as they saw the unemployment rate rise and people they knew (or worked with) losing their jobs. Fear and anxiety replaced security and predictability.

Soon the mindset of shortage over-shadowed career decisions and self-limiting beliefs crept in:

  • “I’m too old to change careers now,”
  • “I don’t have a degree so I’m sure they won’t consider me for that position,”
  • “I’ll never find another job as good as the one I have. I need to just stay put, even if I’m not really happy here.”

While some were limiting their own options, others were re-positioning themselves to be an employer’s best solution in the current situation. They created new pathways for themselves; they changed industries, re-located, earned a new certification or volunteered for a project to develop new skills. Their problem-solving process led them to move in the direction of their goals, even if it required a detour.

One of my career-coaching clients took a position that required him to commute about twice as far because he saw how the experience he was gaining would qualify him for an expanded role as soon as the business climate improved. He deliberately planned his career path and overcame the blocks he encountered. His strategy worked; today he enjoys his ideal position, using the skills he gained in the position with the long commute.

More alternatives

In my 2011 book, Discover UR Best Self: Guide to a Great Work-Life, I offer information and solutions to other career hazards, such as toxic relationships and unrelenting stress. If you’d like to receive this self-discovery guide to a great work-life, please visit www.CareerFromHere.com/books. The e-book version sells for $10.95 and the paperback for $16.95. As a special offer to readers of this blog, I’ll send the paperback to you with no additional shipping charge (usually $2.50).

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her business and career coaching practice. She describes professional coaching as, “The best possible job in the world for me.” Since she began coaching in 2004, her systems have led fed-up professionals from frustration to fulfillment in their work-life. www.CareerFromHere.com 

 

Testing Career Options

 By Marti Benjamin, MBA

Professional Certified Coach

Certified Career Management CoachCertified Professional Résumé Writer

Where do I even begin to make a career change?” I hear that question frequently from career transitioners. Many people recognize they want to do something different but what they want to do is not always as easy to identify.

Rule out what you don’t want

One place to start a career re-design is to list the jobs and work conditions you don’t want. Think about the components of your current (or past) position(s) that have drained your energy and left you frustrated. Those are clues that you weren’t playing to your innate talents, regardless of the skills you used.

Perhaps it’s a time in your career that you want to be home to help your children with their homework, rather than traveling for business every week. If your priority is family time and your work doesn’t accommodate that life style, you’ll be unhappy with your choice, regardless of how interesting and rewarding the position might be. Include in your “don’t want” list those conditions and requirements that you want to avoid in your next career.

 Reliable and objective assessments

The Internet is full of surveys and assessments that will provide you with some analysis of your personality or preferences. Buyer beware! Avoid assessments where the vendor is unwilling or unable to describe their statistical reliability and validity measures.

If the assessment leads you to a site that sells classes or other products, be skeptical of the results. For example, if you’re asked to draw a figure to see if you have talent for art school and you’re then accepted into an art program for several thousand dollars in tuition, it’s likely that the assessment was meant to encourage your enrollment and has little or nothing to do with your future career success.

Professional career coaches use assessments with strong validity and reliability features and that stand separate from any specific vocational service. (Contact me for more information.) I avoid surveys that dictate specific, narrow occupations because I know that the same assessment results can lead to many different career options.

Assess your interests

Beyond the specific job role or industry, your personal interests play into your career satisfaction as well. Identify what you value the most in your career: money, status, working with facts, aesthetics, achievement, teamwork, adventure, efficiency, routine, imagination, change and variety, social interaction, contribution.

One reliable, no-cost interest survey is available at onetonline.org, under the heading, “I want to be …”

Talk to those doing the work

Use your network to identify people who are actually doing the job(s) you’re considering. Arrange an introduction and request an informational interview. Learn about the position from the perspective that only someone performing it can offer.

Prepare for this interview; develop questions about the growth forecast for the occupation, the critical success factors, qualifications for entering the field, best route for growth and promotion and typical tasks, duties, responsibilities, work conditions, challenges and rewards.

Try on the job

If possible, find a volunteer opportunity that allows you to perform the same or similar work so you can truly see what it would be like for you in that job.

You might also consider a temporary position to try on a job role.

What’s next?

If you’re ready to explore your career options, don’t miss this Career From Here special offer! During February 2014 only, the Jump-Start Career Package—including two career assessments and two hours of career coaching—is discounted for readers of this blog. Normally $490.00, for February only, the price is $425.00 when you request, “Jump-Start 0214”. Contact me for additional information at 775.337.0661 or Marti@CareerFromHere.com.

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life. www.CareerFromHere.com

 

Career Myths and Mysteries

What Got You Here?

By: Marti Benjamin, MBA

Professional Certified Coach

Certified Career Management Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

Perhaps the most prevalent career myth I encounter is the one that says if you just keep doing what you’ve done up to this point in your career, you’ll continue to progress to higher level of responsibility, prestige and compensation. In today’s workplace, the employee seeking advancement or a new career direction needs to manage his or her career progress actively.

Career management demands a careful and objective evaluation of what’s needed in a rapidly changing environment. Some of the skills acquired in the past are obsolete and won’t get you to the next level. The major problem with looking at what got you here is that’s the wrong direction—it’s the past, not the future.

Recently I conducted a complementary sample career coaching meeting with a prospective candidate who told me all of the things he was unwilling to do: learn new technology, report to people who were 30 years younger, work more than 10 hours a day, etc. He said he had, “paid his dues” and didn’t intend to go through all of that strain and stress again.

His feelings are understandable but as a career strategy, his limitations are fatal. He expects a future employer to recognize the contributions he’s made in the past and trust that he’ll do so again, even if he’s not keeping up with business tools and trends. I doubt that he’ll find what he considers a good position for this time in his career and life, unless he changes his expectations.

The story line of your career must be future-oriented, not past-focused.

  1. Begin with understanding your natural talents, those things that are part of your personality and how you do what you do, whether at work or other parts of your life. Are you driven by setting and achieving specific targets? Maybe you’re the person who keeps the team moving forward through encouragement. Or, perhaps you’re the one who senses risk before anyone else. These natural talents are the best assets to develop for your career advantage.
  2. Next, add the skills you’ve learned through education, training and work experience. For example:  verbal communication, writing, making presentations, evaluating data, analyzing financial reports, etc. Identify the important skills in various industries and business settings and notice where your skills match the need.
  3. Identify the growing occupations. There are several government websites projecting the 10-year growth of various occupations; check them out to see what skills are required and what type of personality fits well.
  4. Talk with people in your target careers. Prepare thoughtful questions about the work they do and what they expect in the industry over the next five or 10 years. (You’ll learn more about the reality of the role in these conversations than you will in website search, but it’s exhausting to start on this step without narrowing the field through on line search.)

Career management requires continuous internal evaluation—the skills you’ve mastered and your personality—and a scan of the external environment. The best fit is the one that relies on your natural talents, utilizes your skills and is expected to grow robustly.

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life. www.CareerFromHere.com.

 

Career Myths and Mysteries

Informational Interviews: What Good are They?

By Marti Benjamin, MBA

Certified Career Management Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

 One of the best ways to learn about an industry, position or company is to talk with someone on the inside. The purpose of this conversation is not to ask for a job, but to learn about the job role, industry or company from the viewpoint of a person in that particular position.

 Even though you won’t be asking for a job in this conversation, it’s crucial that you approach this as a career-enhancing interview. Be prepared!

  • Do your homework. Research the company: know what they produce or sell, how they differentiate themselves in a competitive landscape, their major initiatives or contracts, what they claim to stand for (i.e., their values and culture).
  • Look the part. Dress for an interview, even if your meeting is taking place in a coffee shop. Sit and stand tall and project confidence (not arrogance) and friendliness.
  • Use your interview time well. Most people are busy and have more on their to-do list than they can ever hope to complete. After about 30 minutes, check with the interviewer to see if they need to conclude the meeting or if they are free to spend more time with you. Pay attention to clues that they’re ready to end the conversation, such as fidgeting, checking the time or being distracted.
  • Create your list of questions beforehand. Don’t rely on the person you’re interviewing to tell you what you need to know.

Below are a few sample informational interview questions to get the conversation started and add to your knowledge about a potential career direction. Modify these questions to fit your own voice, but keep them open-ended (requiring more than a yes or no response).

  1. How do you measure success in this field? Is it on the basis of projects, education, certification or training completed, years of experience or something else?
  2. How did you break into this industry (or company, or position)?
  3. How are most positions in this field filled—through networking or through the company’s formal hiring process? Where should I concentrate my attention?
  4. What are the ‘must follow’ websites, professional groups and industry leaders that I should be monitoring to learn about developments in the industry (or company)?
  5. Are there particular LinkedIn discussion groups or professional Facebook pages I should join to monitor the industry (or company)? Which have you found to be most useful?
  6. What are some tips or suggestions you can offer, given the skills I have today and the career targets I’ve set?
  7. Which of my current skills will serve me well in this field?
  8. How do you see this industry (or position, or company) changing over the next five years?
  9. Given my background, what would be a reasonable salary expectation for me as I transition into this field/industry?
  10. What work or volunteer experience should I gain to more easily transition into this field (or company)?

Like a traditional job interview, it’s important to follow an informational meeting with a thank-you note, expressing gratitude for the time, support and useful information shared. Send your note within 24 hours by either snail mail or email.

You can also invite the person you’ve interviewed to connect with you on LinkedIn or other professional social media. Build the relationship through regular contact and serving as a resource.  Keep it professional, always.

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life. www.CareerFromHere.com

 

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