In his excellent book ”Go Put Your Strengths to Work,” Marcus Buckingham introduces what he describes as the 3 myths regarding strengths. Whether you agree with his premises or not, they are certainly worth considering.

Ready? Here they are:

1) As you grow, your personality changes. Individuals certainly make adjustments, have new experiences, mature, acquire new skills and knowledge, etc., but the core of the person stays pretty much the same. You should become intimate with what bicepI like to call “your best stuff,” because that’s where you will be the most accomplished and satisfied. This is the reason, by the way, that I named my business “Gift of Self Career Services.” What you do should be who you are!

2) You will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. As a consultant, I used to tell people “It’s not a weakness, it’s an opportunity for development.” True, to some degree, but it’s still a weakness! Spending an inordinate amount of time working away to move a weakness into an ability that is barely adequate cannot begin to match the contribution when one is using their strengths to contribute to the organization. This does not mean, by the way, that you get a pass on your weak areas, just that more time should be spent on growing “your best stuff.”

3) A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team. If this means finding the areas in the task, project, assignment, etc. where the team member’s strengths can contribute the most, this is a true statement, If, however, it means that individuals who are less talented in certain areas should step into these tasks, both the team and the individuals suffer. A good team member will help the entire team to identify and assign duties to match the strengths of each member. That’s where the true ROI (Return On Investment) can take place!

Interesting take on strengths and weaknesses, is it not?

What’s that? You say your Latin is a bit rusty? This extraordinary phrase comes from two of my Saturday morning heroes – Tom and Ray Magliozzi (a.k.a. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” from Car Talk, now airing classic shows with the sad passing of Tom). If this does not connect with any of you, I urge you to tune in a PBS radio station in your area at 10 AM on the afore-mentioned day for their car advice (AND raucous Cambridge laughter). An absolute delight, they even include good automotive information at times!

This Latin phrase was one of their deeply held credos, notably accredited to Tom (on the left). When they were queried as to how they were able to respond to call-ingty_car_talk_Tom_and_Ray_Magliozzi_jt_120609_wg questions as quickly as they did, their response (translated into Latin for the more erudite among us) was “We’re ‘unencumbered by the thought process!’”

I’ve shamelessly adopted this as one of my mantras, to the point of once having it emblazoned over the door to my office (to challenge myself as well as my clients. I even donated to my local PBS station to score the coffee mug!). Why? One of MY deeply held credos is as follows: “We should think less and act more.” In Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, the author Guy Claxon notes how “thinking less can make you more intelligent.” We often spend so much time thinking through options and potential outcomes that action never ensues. This impacts opportunities for all, since failure to act on something virtually guarantees failure to achieve much of anything.

To be sure, we need to engage what Hercule Poirot called “the little grey cells” as we move ahead in our work and lives, but I would humbly suggest that you include this Latin phrase in your “career toolbox” as well.

Don’t be so encumbered by the thought process! Think a little less and act more!

bonus - scrabbleMany individuals who would be entertaining retirement in a better economy are finding themselves staying in the workforce much longer. Sometimes this is the result of finances, and other times it is more a case of their not being ready to stop working. After all, daytime television seems to be a vast wasteland, and the “To Do” list can become the “It’s Done” list. This decision, of course, places them in the position of both competing with as well as potentially working for individuals who could be decades their junior! How can these “mature” candidates make the case for their contributions to their company?

Although the following characteristics are hardly exclusive to the “older worker,” here are some suggestions as to the key qualifications the mature candidate may offer:

Experience
“Experience is the teacher of all things,” a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, may not always be accurate, but those who have been around longer have certainly amassed more experience. Learning by doing will always be a key way to gather knowledge and expertise, and those whose life experiences span a greater time frame certainly have had this opportunity.

Expertise
Experience can beget expertise, as the more time we spend doing something, the better we get at it. Thus, the worker who has been at it longer is likely to have developed significant skills in their areas of experience. This could shorten the learning curve for them as a “new” hire.

Real-World Knowledge
As contrasted with theory and concepts, the individual who has been at work and life for a longer time frame has had the opportunity to connect what is being taught and written about with what really happens out there. As I have often said, “For almost everything I’ve learned in life, I can point to a scar.” Sometimes, literally! :)

Demonstrated Interpersonal Skills
“Playing well with others,” being a good team member, demonstrating facility in effective communication, etc., all have had the opportunity to be more developed in those who have been around longer.

Work Ethic
Although this is not universally the case, the “Protestant Work Ethic” is often well developed in those individuals from earlier generations, many of whom have spent extended time in the work force. Showing up on time, being responsible and dependable, exchanging a good day’s work for a fair day’s pay, etc., are often well developed in the mature employee.

Why They Are “Not” the Best Candidates: Mature Worker Concerns
As I am frequently working with individuals who would fall into this category, I will often suggest that the key reasons you may not be hired (or promoted) may include the following:

  • You want too much money.
  • You are not good at change.
  • Your technical skills are poor.
  • You may have impending health issues.

My counsel to these individuals is to demonstrate in their work, online presence, resume, interviewing and lifestyle that these reasons cannot be categorically applied to them as older candidates. With these issues addressed, they are able to present themselves as exceptional candidates based on all of the attributes noted above.

A Word on the Younger Candidate

To be fair, many younger workers can possess these qualities as well. The only item that may not be there for them is experience. But you can address that deficit by hiring them!

Please allow me to start this “anti-resolution treatise” with a disclaimer. I have no problem with people who choose the start of a new year to make life-enhancing commitments. The title of this blog is directed to my musings alone on the advantages and disadvantages of New Year’s Resolutions.

Early in my career I spent years working in fitness centers, both as a sales consultant and a trainer. The die-hard “gym rats” (not a term of derision, to my way of thinking) always dreaded the first couple of months of the New new-years-resolutionsYear. Scores of “newbies” would descend on the equipment, monopolizing the machines while grunting and groaning, often in poor form with little chance of success, in search of that elusive, fit individual hiding deep within them. By the end of February, however, most of the smoke had cleared, and we were back to the “old faithful” regulars at the gym.

You can also observe this fanaticism for resolutions in the ads on TV and the blogs/tweets/updates on the Internet. Lose weight, transform your business, embrace success, take charge, be all you can be, etc. And you are all but guaranteed success in any of your endeavors as, after all, it is the New Year! It’s all New! You can have a Fresh Start! It’s bound to work this time, right?!

Well, yes and no. Bless those dear souls who, with all the integrity and resolve they can muster, make these Resolutions. I read a tweet from someone just before the arrival of a New Year that noted they had just 2 days left to achieve the results they had committed to 363 days before! Well intentioned, yet not likely to be realized in the next 48 hours!

So, you may well ask, what’s my point?! (Go ahead, ask!) Simply this: To borrow a well-known phrase from Madison Avenue that originated in 1988, “Just Do It!” Start it right away, whether in the shadow of the New Year’s fireworks, the excitement of spring blossoms, the oppressive heat of the dog days of summer, the panoply of fall colors or the grey skies in the dead of winter. To quote the title of one of my favorite books by Barbara Sher, “It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now!”

And, once you’ve started, stay with it! I recently encountered a T-shirt emblazoned with this pithy phrase – “Just Doing It.” Two steps forward and one step back (the way I typically advance) is still a net gain of one step. Remember that success is more often the result of “grit” than anything else. To quote another favorite author of mine, Dan Pink (in the persona of Johnny Bunko), “Persistence trumps talent!”

Make your resolutions, whenever and however you can and, once you have done so, get caught “JUST DOING IT!”

I am particularly enamored of this concept of mine, although I will confess that it HAUNTS ME AT TIMES! This does not reduce its value, however!

Life is full of decisions, and career development has more than its share of them. As Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

WithConfused man due respect to the sagacious Yogi, that won’t work! So how can you decide whether or not to move ahead in a particular direction, return a call, schedule an interview, take a promotion, mail out a resume, etc.? I suggest that you apply what I have termed my “WHY NOT?” Principle(tm): simply stated, if you cannot answer “No” to a question (e.g., Should I consider taking on this new project?), the next answer is always “Yes.” In other words, until you can make the case for “why not?” – why you should not investigate the opportunity – you should move ahead at least one more step. After all, no answer will come to you if you just sit there!

Let’s investigate some scenarios where you can apply my “Why Not? Principle(tm).”

1.   You’re called by a company for an interview. The position under consideration seems to be significantly below your qualifications, but they still want to see you. Do you go in to see them or not?

WHY NOT?

No good answer. You don’t have adequate information to make an informed, intelligent decision. Perhaps the position is better than it seems from the outside. The company may see your skills and identify a better fit for you in the organization (this really does happen!). This is not the only position that will ever open up in this organization, and you have the opportunity to make a positive contact with the company.

  • Check it out. You have nothing to lose.

2.   A longtime friend provides you with a lead to a job that does not interest you at all, nor does it allow you to use any of the skills and experience you want to bring to the job market. Do you follow up on the opportunity?

WHY NOT?

Following up on a situation that you have no interest in is a waste of the company’s time and yours, as well as being less than honest towards your friend. It would be much better to thank your friend for the advice and the intended opportunity, explaining why you would not be interested and helping your friend better understand your career targets and employment goals. Also, you could damage your relationship by not telling your friend the truth.

  • Be kind but honest. Thank them but help them to help you better.

3.   Your company is pressing you to interview for a position that you know has no relationship to your career goals or personal interests. You know you can do the job, but don’t really want to! Do you go for the interview or not? After all, isn’t every promotion a good move?!

WHY NOT?

Wasting their time is not a good way to invest yours. Some people might consider this a “no risk” opportunity to get some interview practice, but I see it as a disingenuous act, wasting the time of a company that obviously only wants to see  interested applicants. Here’s an additional concern: since you’re not under pressure, you may interview very confidently and end up receiving a promotion offer you didn’t want in the first place! THEN what do you do?

  • Politely turn down their kind offer, using this opportunity to help your organization better understand where your interests and best abilities to contribute lie.

4.   An acquaintance in the community wants to meet you for lunch to help you in your career development. This is someone you know to have no “clout” or real connections with any “heavy hitters.” Do you schedule or work up a believable excuse?

WHY NOT?

No good answer here, either. Everyone knows someone. You may think this person is not connected (and you may be right), but some of the best opportunities for serendipitous, extraordinary surprises can come from the most unlikely situations. It’s nice that this person wants to help. Give him or her the time and the benefit of the doubt. Remember: you don’t have to take all of the advice you get, just listen to it. The relationship you enhance may be much more valuable than any information you may get!

  • Have lunch with them and listen to what they have to say. There is no way of telling what opportunities could result.

Try employing my “Why Not Principle(tm).” It will press you into more action, reduce your second-guessing, create serendipitous possibilities and perhaps even help you to see more results.

“WHY NOT?”

Can you see the connection? (Probably not yet, but be patient…I’ll get there).

As a former apartment dweller and a college student making the trek to the laundry room, I recall perusing the cork-covered bulletin board whImageile killing time during the rinse cycle.

What did I see? A collection of signs with tear-off phone numbers, providing access to used sofas, pleas for roommates, lost pet information and a panoply of related requests and announcements.

Some time ago, I used a BBS to gather useful advice on improving my marathon performance (a goal that has since gone “the way of all flesh”…these days, I’m happy to finish standing up!). Amazingly, I was awarded with a plethora of helpful advice and support. Since that time, I have come to see the multitude of Social Media applications (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc., etc.) as the 21st century replacements for that corkboard that had served so well.

Allow me to suggest some key points on using a digital thumb tack to post your “sign” at the new “Laundromat”.

  • Be professional. As you request insight and advice or referral (please, NEVER job leads!), be aware of the sacrifice these people are making in taking the time to share their perspectives with you.
  • Use these tools with discretion. If your every communication is to “get something,” you will soon be branded as a “user,” and rightfully so. Remember, “Givers Gain.”
  • Always, always be appreciative. A simple “thank you” (taking precious little of your time) can cause you to stand out from the teeming mass of “gimmes” out there.
  • Participate in groups as an advocate and contributor. Don’t be a “cyber stalker.”
  • Pay it forward. For every time you to seek to gain, find at least two times you can give.

Please don’t take this metaphor too far. If you have an ottoman for sale, I really don’t want to read about it on LinkedIn. However, at the same time, Social Media can present an extraordinary goldmine of information, advice and referral that would take months, perhaps even years to unearth without it.

…I’ll be watching for your “ad.”

In 1982, the British punk / alternative rock band The Clash released their album “Combat Rock” to mixed reviews, although a number of the songs, notably “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” did experience some critical success. It’s not my typical listening fare, but one of the cuts from this album raises an excellent question for the careerist: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I know The Clash isn’t talking about employment, but the question is a fair one. As you consider vocational options for your next employment “gig,” one of the pressing alternatives is: 1) to stay in your present field, or 2) try something new.  I’d like to suggest that there are actually three potential choices in this vocational quandary:

  • Stay – Stay
  • Stay – GrowExit signs
  • Go – Grow

Let’s take some time to review these in greater detail to get a sense of your alternatives.

Stay – Stay

This choice implies seeking a lateral move, a status quo / more-of-the-same decision that allows you to bring your experience and expertise to a new organization where you will be doing much the same type of thing as you did at your most recent employer. No significant changes exist here. Your commute will be different and your job title may be new, but by and large what you will be doing is what you have been doing.

There is nothing wrong with this option, particularly if you found significant satisfaction in your previous work. This is likely one of the easier directions to investigate. A standard resume format will work (listing your titles and experience in reverse chronological order). Responding to the interview question “Why are you interested in this position?” is rather straightforward, since you’ve done this type of work before and want to do it again.

Where this direction may come up short for you, however, is if you are uninspired in your present work. I have called this, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” If this applies, you may want to consider one of the other options.

Stay – Grow

This direction focuses on using your work and life experiences to take your employment adventures “to the next level” (sorry for the cliché), beyond what you have done to new challenges, experiences, projects, etc. As in the Stay – Stay model, you are continuing your focus along the lines of your present experience (e.g., supervision in a manufacturing setting), but are challenging yourself to find a situation that will require and allow you to build on your previous experience to move up and on in your career development.

How this may affect your search is that you will want to make the case that you are an “up and comer,” someone with demonstrated successes who is seeking new challenges and areas of responsibility. You will want to make the point (in your resume, interviews, networking, etc.) that you are a force to be reckoned with, seeking new horizons and opportunities to add value to your new organization as well as continuing to develop yourself personally and professionally.

The Stay – Grow option could be problematic if you are disenchanted with your present career path and are hoping that more responsibility or a higher level of accountability will reinvigorate your flagging career attitude. It may, or it may just satisfy you for a short amount of time until you realize that all you’ve done is change your space in the parking lot of a career that no longer excites you. If this is the case, you may want to consider the option behind “Door Number 3” –

Go – Grow

This final option says it’s time for something new. You don’t want more of the same anymore (Stay – Stay), and moving up in the same field will only postpone your inevitable employment ennui (Stay – Grow), so it’s time for a change. This could be seeking to bring your experience into a new industry or business (from banking to hospitality, for example), or it may mean making a radical change into a dramatically new and different field.

This kind of change is exciting but also quite challenging. In her excellent book Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra says that our earlier work experience can bind us and blind us to new alternatives. If you choose to move in this direction, be sure to invest time in learning more about I call “your best stuff” (key interests, values and skills) and how they may be met in work and life settings. You will need to create a skill-based resume to focus on what you bring to the game more than where you have been employed, and your networking will be more dynamic, seeking insights and alternatives beyond where you have been and what you have done. The best answers to these questions are out in the world. Get out there and start asking!

Well there you are – Should you stay or should you go? It’s your call. Considering seeking out the advice of a Career Coach as you work  through your options.