Tuesday 18 December 2012

Career Sustainability - careers advice, inspiration and mental stimulation for job hunters: What's the difference between success, happiness a...

Career Sustainability - careers advice, inspiration and mental stimulation for job hunters: What's the difference between success, happiness a...:   ... and falling short of your dreams? Before reading this item, please take a moment to visualise those people you have seen who are fu...

What's the difference between success, happiness and achievement....

 ... and falling short of your dreams?
Before reading this item, please take a moment to visualise those people you have seen who are fulfilling their dreams, and those who aren't there yet.

What is the difference between them?
I’d hazard an educated guess that a lot of what you’re seeing in the successful person is in their physical posture.

What do I mean when I say ‘physical posture’?
Let’s face it successful people tend to give-off an aura. It is deeper than just looking confident; they carry themselves differently, they act differently, they think differently and this positive energy is often regarded as ‘attractive’ in much the same way as magnetic energy attracts.

You can always recognise the people who have ‘it’ because they tend to look above the horizon. They aren't looking curled-up in a ball or looking at their feet as if they worry that they’re going to fall down a crack in the pavement. They've no use of superstition because their 'glass is half full' and they’re consistently optimistic. They have faith in what the future holds and stride out towards it proactive, confident and eager.

The Hedgehog Effect: Just like the hedgehog’s instinct to roll-up into a ball, there are times when I have met clients for the first time when they are physiologically and psychologically rolled-up tightly in a ball of self-preservation; as if rolling with punches. Somehow they have lost their faith in the benevolence of the universe and seek to protect themselves from being harmed. I often see clients in this state following long periods of unemployment or experiencing the grief of redundancy. 

There are osteopaths, Bowen therapists, Hellerworkers, and body alignment experts that help release this pent-up anxiety from our bodies. I regularly encounter this physical manifestation of anxiety and stress as it prevails in people who have not experienced fulfilment and meaning in their work because they have yet to piece-together their career attributes to form a sustainable career plan; the people who are still wrestling with themselves to discover their own identities and define their mission in life.

Determination – probability, nature or nurture:
Looking back now, with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, I survived that difficult transition between childhood, adolescence and adulthood because the activities I was good at fed me an inner strength. In the main, if it wasn't for sport and my love for The Arts, I would have struggled much more.

Deep down inside I knew I possessed positive potential and that it was surely a case of just keeping going and one day I would end-up discovering success, achievement and happiness. It was just a matter of time.

I have no clue where this deep instinct stems from, nurture or nature, but I suppose I am lucky that I sensed it was innate within. A long time ago I came to realise that everyone has an innate talent within; it is just a case of circumstance, perseverance and positivity whether they ever experience the warmth of its glow.

I made a breakthrough in my life when I realised how other people had struggled with the same hurdles I had experienced and when a very kind tutor explained to me how insanely unkind the perfectionist character trait can be because we constantly use it to ensure happiness is always just that inch or two out of reach. He helped me understand that my “good enough, might be equivalent to somebody else’s best”. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I never looked back.

It wasn't the past that was going to determine my future…
...it was my decisions in the ‘here and now’
Even though our future course is borne-out of extrapolating the trajectory and themes of our past accomplishments (and failures), potential will always outweigh previous experience; this is how we fuel forward momentum.

How we act upon this potential right now, today governs our future course, our potential for success, happiness and achievement. No great oak ever grew from an acorn that was not 'anchored’. It is a challenging life-lesson to absorb, but our environment is a mirror to our actions. We can influence ‘Darwinian probability’ in the way we represent ourselves to our surroundings as image determines our horizons in life. ‘The expressions we meet on other people’s faces tend to reflect the look we transmit to them’. Hence a sincere smile - reinforced by a self-assured character - is such a disarming weapon in life.

Positivity building-blocks:
As we know from The Secret’, ‘What the Bleep’, and the infinite pool of knowledge on ‘self-help’ and ‘positive thinking’ espoused by visionary thinkers like Dr Norman Vincent Peale, William Clement Stone, and founder of sports psychology Coleman Griffith, there are some essential ingredients to performing well:
  • Do what it takes to germinate the magic in desire – get hungry, want to be successful, fill the void with it and use it to launch yourself.
  • Strive for Inspiration – find a field you are passionate about otherwise you will never find the motivation necessary to persevere over the long haul.
  • Identify where your skills lie. Develop your technique – practice, practice, practice. Hone the attributes you have been ‘given’ until your mastery infects you with conviction and purpose.
  •  Disarm your past mistakes out of the same kindness you would bestow on any other young person who was beating themselves up with negativity born from past errors. Move forward and grow from experience. Look forward and outwards not inwards.
  • Nurture calm and rejuvenation in your bedroom and turn it in an oasis of calm as it is proven that disrupted sleep exacerbates troubled spirits. Master your thoughts through calmed breathing with inspiring books and tranquil meditation in order to cleanse your mind of the days’ strains.
  • Above all enter each day pointing all your faculties at your ‘beacon of purpose’. What is it that you wish to marshal your career attributes towards? Progress is continuous personal development, self-encouragement and confidence-growing; whereas, the stuck, entrenched and stagnant en route to inevitable decline.
Sometimes by providing for others what we actually seek ourselves we are recognising human need. Heartfelt encouragement given to others is an empowering lever in building cohesion, connectedness and cultivating the essential benefits of team-spiritedness and community; especially when we share our successes and goals.

This helpful realisation often comes as a great surprise to my clients, who may have experienced long periods of feeling lonely, isolated and withdrawn, that through their altruism they inject within themselves far more optimism at a time when the natural instinct is to be alone and withdraw. Remember: Respect is very much a 2-way street.

Connecting-with and communing-with others:
The reality is that few champions taste success from the confines of solitude. Achievement, in the main, is built upon united effort, linked with unconditional equality, connected via our ability to depend on others, as it bonds communities invested toward a common good. This is why ‘employee-owned’ organisations like The John Lewis Partnership in the UK do so well – because they share the incentive and the trust.

Very few inward-looking, isolated egocentrics sustain success over the long haul without cultivating more open partnerships with others buying into similar value systems and shared motivations for succeeding. Hence good communications, clear boundaries and respect form the glue that binds every worthwhile success.

Forgiving Mavericks: It’s worth remembering that it can be difficult to find one’s way back into the team dynamic if time has been spent on the periphery. At the same time we should be mindful that the most innovative of minds belong to the most unconventional characters and for them to conform risks amputating their innate brilliance.

Remember real value is borne from invention and invention is disruptive by definition. Sharing achievement is likely to involve adaptability, lateral-thinking, and the occasional ability to forgive a once-adversary who may well be more like you than you’d care to admit! Any such magnanimity requires great maturity. 

Learn to recognise the tiny margins between success and failure:
As is so often the case in this life love/hate, friends/enemies, success/failure are the same coin seen from differing perspectives with the tiniest of fractions differentiating the various viewpoints. Similarly, beware of perfectionism; as it can be a very unrealistic, self-defeating and an overly-rigid trait. [Beware ultimatums as they execute When is our striving for the highest of standards good for us and when is it eroding us away? When is a task finished and when is a task being unnecessarily finessed?

The keystone to happiness is knowing when to stop digging and start constructing; alongside the acceptance that building a life's mission starts with recognising, liking and understanding what talents you possess and appreciating what you’re going to do with them - everyday. Acceptance of what can and can't be changed is elemental.

It might take decades to put the roof on the house of your dreams, but you’re better-off knowing that it is built on firm foundations and that every day you step back to see that the incremental steps, not matter how small, see the walls growing upwards and taking you nearer to your ultimate goal.

A ‘patient summary’:
Perhaps this is why many of our most famous celebrities point-out that it took them a lifetime of error-laden perseverance to become an overnight success! I believe we can only truly measure our success when we can clearly state our values. Only then can we credibly interpret whether our achievements equate to actual success because it is only then that our work is meaningful. 
Concentrated endurance seeds worthy achievement; passion-led talent fuels it.
Duncan Bolam © 2012

The Career Dovetail Formula & Talent Triangles: 
Strengthening wellbeing by dovetailing more people into sustainable careers.

Friday 14 December 2012

Standing the Conventions of Traditional Job-hunting Techniques Upside-down:

Richard Nelson Bolles is unquestionably the grandfather and guru-on-high of modern job-hunting techniques. I consider myself very lucky to have Dick as a longstanding friend and to have understudied him during his world-famous 2-week workshop in Bend, Oregon. Dick’s famous book, ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’, has been THE Number 1 best-selling book for career-changers and job-hunters for many generations; with a refreshed version coming out every year since 1967.

For me there is one particularly outstanding quote in the book:

“Many If Not Most Employers Hunt for Job-Hunters…
…in the Exact Opposite Way from How Most Job-Hunters Hunt for Them”

In spite of the proven wisdom contained in Dick’s inspirational book, nearly everyone I meet wrestles with the sagely advice within. They continue to expend their energies on applying to newspaper ads, sending-off unsolicited CVs and wasting hours applying to faceless companies online. I even find it hard to translate this wisdom to close family members who quite literally look at me as if I have two heads when I suggest they dump the CV/resumé, take the focus off recruitment agencies and get out there talking to people who share their passions with some well-prepared-for and energising informational meetings.

Since entering the careers development profession back in 1997, following a 2 year training programme, I have built a straightforward body of evidence which supports the generally accepted Rule of Thumb that roughly 60 to 85% of jobs are found through networking and ‘Word-of-Mouth’ recommendations (depending upon industrial sector and professional discipline).
Hirers much prefer to hire someone who they know a little about. If they come recommended then that can save a mountain of potentially costly misunderstanding and pain for both parties. Consider the consequences of getting that fleeting decision wrong if you’re The Hirer; after all, how many job interviews last more than 1 or 2 hours and how accurate can they be in forming such an important decision?

Nepotism is a fact of life… and who can blame them:
As much of an example of favouritism as it is, and as ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ so accurately states, the ideal scenario for the employer is to hire from within, to promote a proven member of staff whose quality of work you know; second to which would be to hire a contractor or temporary worker who is already known to the organisation, and so on. So if you’re the Job Hunter starting from a cold start, how do you compete, how do you amplify your chances?
As much as it remains an inspiration, a famous J.K. Rowling quote also sums-up how painful unemployment can be:

“Rock-bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Back in 1994 I was in the midst of a desperate and protracted term of unemployment after I lost a job that I loved, when, refusing to lose faith, my quest for inspiration led me to my first ever, full-blown, career guidance interview. As tough as it can be to accept, especially if you have been unemployed for long period, you have no money, and you might even be at your lowest ever emotional ebb, we have to maintain faith in good things happening. My career guidance interview signified a transformation in my fortunes and a whole new direction for my life. All these years on and I still recognise it as the turning-point of my life.

It is a fact of life that there are times in our lives where we make our own luck. Navigating low-points are good examples. It would be grossly naïve to think we could walk through life unhindered. So what is it that we’re left with when we really, really have reached rock-bottom? I found that I achieved greater clarity about what was and what wasn’t important to me. For me it boiled down to people, community and loved-ones. Above all I learnt that I wanted to help others; especially to help young people avoid the pitfalls that inevitably befall us. And I wanted to leave the planet a better place than where I found it, to leave a legacy.

Solace in Solitude & Scarcity:
The sheer intensity of reflection provided by poverty meant I could draw contrast with incredible clarity at the great times and was better able to recognise what it was that I was good at or what it was about a certain set of circumstances that enabled me to perform to my maximum potential. I knew much more about what I wanted and what I missed. Reviewing the great moments granted me from my love of sport worked as great indicators and excellent ‘practice’ at recognising when my actions were working well.
As a county golfer, basketball player and rugby player, if ever I pictured myself doing well it was always with a smile on my face and great focus on a particular objective to which all my physical and mental attributes were pointed. Admittedly, not everyone is a lover of sport, but all of us possess a passion or an interest in a particular field (or as Dick Bolles calls them ‘Fields of Fascination’), be it fashion, animals, mathematics, stamp-collecting, movies, glass-blowing, history, spirituality, music, carpentry, fast cars… and so on. The list is endless. Identifying our interests is key to sparking our enthusiasm as it will fuel our progress throughout the whole of our career. It also instils an incredibly powerful advantage over our competitors.
The Art of Positive Thinking’ possesses incredible power. Our innate ability to visualise ourselves doing well can almost guarantee success. When we learn to back our own ideas we reap far greater dividends and tap into hidden strengths. Furthermore, we can never expect others to believe in us if we don’t believe in ourselves. But when we’re feeling down-and-out and despondent the reality is that thinking positively can seem very a far-fetched luxury. Rest-assured, somewhere deep within, lays incredible strength and resolve.
How do we build enthusiasm, passion and interest if we haven’t got it?
Informational meetings with ‘like-minded’ people form the mainstay of Dick Bolles’s (and my own) approach to successful job-hunting. Let’s not diminish how much bravery it takes to get yourself out there and start asking people questions about their work. Life can deal us some mean cards. One of the most ironic of all is how life asks us to feel upbeat and confident about ourselves, just at the time when we’re feeling rock-bottom and bereft of our working identity.
There are many ways of building the preamble to get you in position for an informational meeting. I’d suggest buying ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ or getting yourself down to your nearest library and doing the necessary background reading. Here is the gist of the questions I get my clients to ask:
(In line with best practice, apply the questionnaire in person because actually witnessing how your respondents answer questions is a key part of the process; which may lead to adaptations and additions being made as appropriate. Plus it helps build ‘chemistry’ and that all-important rapport we’re looking for.)
1.      How did you get your job and/or get promoted to your present position?
a.      Was there any particular person who helped you with this?
b.      What hiring channel proved most successful?
                                                    i.     responding to newspaper articles
                                                   ii.     internet research
                                                  iii.     speculative approaches - writing directly to the employer
                                                  iv.     recruitment agencies
                                                   v.     Word-of-mouth recommendation
                                                  vi.     Informational meetings
2.      What does your job actually involve on a daily basis?  What are your main activities? 
3.      What do you feel is your No.1 competency or skill that you enjoy using most in this job?
a.      Was this skill innate
b.      Or is it something you have developed whilst working?
c.      Does this competency correlate or link to your interests?
4.      Could you name your Top 3 Values? (e.g. recognition, sense of team, legacy, financial gain, power, creativity, helping others, there are many more…)
5.      In terms of education and training, what qualification has been most useful in your job?
6.      What is it about your personality which suits you to your work? (e.g. are you outgoing, do you concentrate well, are you happy working alone, etc?)
7.      What do you like least about your job?
8.      Do you have any additional advice for somebody attempting to break into this field?
9.      I wonder if you can put me in touch with 3 people from your network who share your working passions/interests, who you think would be willing to answer these questions. Contact name & details:

NB: Trust me on this; never fail to send your respondents and hand-written 'Thank You' for their time.

Informational Meetings truly bear fruit when you and your interviewee share such common interest that you both get very enthusiastic about the subject matter! Sometimes I have even known the rapport to be so good that the interviewer – You – is offered a job right there and then. When you’ve really done your homework on the organisation, and you’re really well-prepared, well-versed in your field of expertise and fuelled by your professional passions, the ‘fit’ between you and the company you are interviewing is all too obvious and they know you will very quickly add value, contribute great ideas and generally inject much-needed enthusiasm into their firm. So they just have to hire you to stop the competition from getting you!

This is all well and good, I hear you say, if you’re a young person starting-out on your career. But what of the workers whose industries have died, or the company owners have moved the operations nearer to cheaper labour sources. That work is not coming back anytime soon. This is where we have to ask ourselves what our transferrable skills are. What fields are connected to the work I once did and how to get into them.
Job Hunting Strategies:
Apart from trying to stay away from your pc during the daytime when you can meet people instead, I’d strongly suggest getting strategic about your job hunt. You will need a well-organised base, or desk, and you’ll need to do a lot of information gathering and planning. Dumping your thoughts down on paper either into a journal or diagrammatically, can be very helpful. I love mindmaps as they connect-up what might appear to be random thoughts and help us see patterns where they might otherwise remain invisible.
Extrapolating patterns from past performance can be incredibly empowering when it comes to building a plan for the future. Patterns point to proficiency, passion and potential, but recognising them is not always easy! Even if we are building from our past mistakes, an historic perspective can be very enlightening; as it provides lots of clues. For example, this is why we ask the question: What do you like least about your job? Because at least from understanding what we don’t like we are stepping towards what we do!
[I believe that there could be a sinister backdrop to employment trends and I have written about this extensively elsewhere. My fear is that growing numbers of corporations see the only way of increasing their profit margins being to ‘offshore’ and ‘outsource’ their labour costs by moving to increasingly cheaper sources of workers. The simple point I make here is how they risk shooting themselves in the foot if they take wages away from their local consumers by doing so. There can be little doubt that quality suffers as The West is many decades ahead in the adeptness of skill required to manufacture well-made products. Due to these short-sighted and economically naïve policies many once great companies have alienated their regular customers and robbed themselves of financial stability in the long term. Cheap goods are not always good goods. Unlike Detroit-based car-makers who stood still, the antidote is generating innovations and producing leading-edge thinkers fuelled by passion and the striving to make the World a better place.]
In parallel much of The West’s accrued vocational capital has stagnated from lack of investment in apprenticeships and training. In his compellingly beautiful book, written with his mastery of words, ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good’ Matthew Crawford encourages us to consider enriching our lives with more fulfilling and meaningful work.
The All-Important Skill of Rapport-Building:
Stop for one moment to consider the all-important skill of ‘rapport-building’. If you enter into a job interview not prepared to build rapport with your interviewer, then don’t waste your time or theirs. How do we build rapport? It stems from common ground. This can be physical, in that we mirror their body language and look and feel good in ourselves and we are seen to be attractive. And/or we strike up rapport by discovering that we share common values, interests, character traits, qualifications, language, hometowns, football teams… the list goes on, but you get my gist - we build rapport on shared passions.
Audits & Forecasts:
Now that we have spoken to other people about what fuels their successful careers, and we have absorbed their insight into their business, we are in a much better position to formulate our own career strategy. One of the most powerful techniques that I learnt during my career development training was the ‘Career Narrative’. Here we develop career-related stories about our work-based achievements and are helped to  interrogate our database of experience for the kinds of skills that we good at an enjoy using.
As with our ‘Patterns of Potential’ we will start to see recurring themes. This will also by now be building our confidence. We will start to see our vocational identity more clearly and understand the kind of people and firms we need to being talking to to build our careers by making ourselves more relevant.
We have really cracked our career strategy when we have extrapolated our research so accurately that we can list the companies that we want to go and work for and the individuals in those organisations that we should be writing to or calling up to request informational meetings with.
Purpose & Conviction:
Here again, I have written about this subject extensively elsewhere, but the message I wish to convey here concerns the difference between someone possessing a sense of purpose and conviction and those who don’t. As stated earlier, it is easy for someone to say these things when they’re not feeling down-and-out and devoid of confidence. And this is the key to success - don’t ‘go-to-market’ until you have it. Your marketplace is finite, there are only so many companies who will employ someone with your skill-set and career attributes in your area. Don’t squander valuable opportunities – and energy -  by being ill-prepared.
Going back to the use of positive visualisation, imagine for a moment a gymnast running at a vaulting horse. Imagine then sprinting down the runway about to throw themselves over the horse if they don’t believe in their ability to succeed. It’s simply going to end in tears isn’t it? They aren’t going to run fast enough, they’ll be thinking about how much they’re going to hurt themselves and just not concentrating on the important action of taking-off the springboard, placing their hands in the right place, and landing safely on both feet.
Whereas, in contrast, the gymnast who has prepared, honed their strength and technique through repeated practice, knows exactly what actions they need to carry–out, in what sequence, to perform well and can sprint, take-off and land like a well-oiled machine. They possess the qualities of self-belief, mental-surety, physical prowess and an attractiveness associated with their knowing they’re good at what they do.
In summary:
Job-hunting can be a lonely activity. It is also part of the Human Condition that we are not very good at looking inwardly and being objective about where our strengths and weaknesses lie when working alone. The best sportsmen and women in the world hire coaches to hold a mirror up and show them where they are going wrong and celebrate what they’re doing right. The lesson here is to try not to job-hunt alone. If you can’t hire a Career Coach to help you, club-together and share one, or gather together with others in the same position as a form of peer support or ask your friends and family for help.
The point remains the same, “Many If Not Most Employers Hunt for Job-Hunter in the Exact Opposite Way from How Most Job-Hunters Hunt for Them.” If you are not savvy to this and react accordingly, the risk is you will remain stuck. ‘The Path of Least Resistance’ as I call it, involves strengthening your job hunting armoury by never shooting at a job you don’t love with a sawn-off shotgun and no conviction. In stark contrast you are doing whatever it takes to aim at jobs you sincerely love, firing your heartfelt enthusiasm down the barrel of a high velocity rifle and taking aim with the precision of telescopic sights.

From my perspective, built on many years of experience, as hunter and coach, the labour market falls into two camps: 90% of the people I meet are in the wrong job, not engaged by their work at all, or paralysed by long term unemployment – they are the ‘Reactive Majority’. Then there are the 10% ‘Proactive Minority’ who know what they want and exactly where they’re going to get it. Remember, if your job isn’t out there, build it yourself! Harness your creativity, create your own recipe, build your own business and fly free!
Which camp do you want to be in – reactive, or proactive and free to call the shots yourself?
Duncan Bolam © 2012
The Career Dovetail Formula: Strengthening wellbeing by dovetailing more people into sustainable careers.