“Forget Your Troubles” was written by Ted Koehler in 1950 and memorialized by Judy Garland. In the Imagecontext of career development and personal growth, this seems easier said than done. Job Search, Career Advancement, Life, etc. is full of discouragement, rejection and an abundance of “No’s”.

“Get happy” just doesn’t cut it.

Actually, however, it is pretty good advice. Research by psychologist Martin Seligman (author of two books on my reading list in http://www.goodreads.com, Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness) has shown that “getting happy” can actually be done! As a new graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in the 60s, Seligman assisted in behavioral research using animals to determine how they learned to avoid unpleasant situations. Without going into the details (don’t worry, the subjects weren’t hurt!), conditions were created where the animals were unable to avoid a stressful situation. In other words, regardless of what they did, they experienced an unpleasant response. It reached the point where they would do absolutely nothing, since what they did changed nothing! This was described as “learned helplessness” – in humans, something we may call “pessimism.” Seligman eventually started to wonder that, if we can “learn” to be pessimistic, maybe we can learn to be optimistic, too (enter his first book, Learned Optimism).

Now some of us seem to be naturally optimistic, able to see the glass as half full. I’ve always liked the comment of the comedian, “I don’t care if the glass is half empty or half full, I just want to know who was drinking it and do I have to pay for all of it!” Quite honestly, these cheerful types tend to annoy me somewhat. Aren’t they paying attention to what’s happening? I naturally fall on the side of the pessimists – that seems more realistic to me. Then, when things happen, I’m either absolutely right (“I knew it wouldn’t work!”) or pleasantly surprised (“Wow! I didn’t expect this!”).

This mindset is not very successful, however. (I speak from personal experience.) Seligman did research on pessimism and came up with three distinct dimensions for pessimism: permanence, pervasiveness and personalization. Here is how they work:

Permanence means when something goes wrong, it will stay wrong, never to correct itself. Learn to live with it, because it’s here to stay. When you fail at something, the results of this experience will affect you for the rest of your life. Deal with it.

Pervasiveness means when something goes wrong, it’s only the beginning. There is more to come, so you better get used to it. When one company does not return your calls, no one will. You may as well give up. To quote a song by a favorite bluesman of mine, Buddy Guy: “I wonder where the next one’s coming from?!”

Personalization means that when something goes wrong, you deserved it because of what you didi or who you are. Don’t expect anything nice to happen to you because you are not worthy of such an experience. You didn’t get that promotion because you are a rotten human being, lucky to be employed at all.

These statements sound over the top, don’t they? Yet many of us practice them regularly. By the way, if you register with Dr. Seligman’s website, http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu, you can complete an assessment to identify your scores on these factors, along with all sorts of other measures.

I don’t want to stop here, however. Seligman, a major contributor to what he calls “Positive Psychology,” offers a step-by-step approach to retooling your thinking (removing what Stuart Smalley (a.k.a. Al Franken) of Saturday Night Live™ calls “stinkin’ thinkin’”). To do this process justice, you really should read his books, but here is the process in abbreviated form. The five steps follow the alphabet – ABCDE.

A – Adversity: This is the offending event. I was just turned down for the promotion I was counting on.

B – Belief: My natural response, what this situation makes me think. I’m not a good candidate, I’ll probably end up being a greeter at a large retail establishment. I may as well get fitted for an apron now.

C – Consequences: How my beliefs translate into actions. Since I’m obviously not a serious candidate for any quality position, I might as well give up and take a paper route.

D – Disputation: Here is where the magic can start. I challenge B and C. Am I really a waste of space, with no real options? Seligman says that we need to learn to argue with ourselves. His Learned Optimism book gives some very practical guidance on how to do this.

E – Energization: This is where you turn the “argument” with yourself into renewed action. I am not a waste of space. Although I regret not getting this opportunity I’ll find out why, improve my performance and redouble my efforts until I’m successful.

There will be days when you just don’t feel like it. That’s normal, especially if you are a pessimist like me. Do it anyway. “Fake it until you make it.” You can make a habit of practicing your new optimistic outlook, even if it isn’t your natural style. I have! You’re likely to be very pleased with the results.

Ready to increase your vocabulary (as in Readers’ Digest’s “Increase Your Word Power”)? Here’s a great addition to your career “toolbox: – COUNTERFACTUAL (n): a conditional statement the first clause of which expresses something contrary to fact, as “If I had known.”.

In his excellent book If Only: How to Turn Regret into Opportunity, Neil Roese describes the two directions wFail Hashtaghich counterfactual thinking can take, explaining why the Bronze Medal Winner at the Olympics is happier than the Silver Medal recipient. Even though Silver is #2 in the world in their sport, they focus up to missing the Gold while the Bronze recipient focuses downward to see what they have accomplished (“I almost didn’t medal!”).

Here’s the Career Application: this “downward” thinking causes the “Bronze Medal careerists” to be better equipped to learn, to develop insights, to challenge themselves to greater accomplishments, while the “Silver Medalist” (without the benefit of downward counterfactual thinking) may find themselves in a self-defeating “woulda, coulda, shoulda” spiral.

Let’s close with a few timely quotes on Failure:

“There are defeats that carry with them the radiant promise of coming victory.” – F.W. Boreham

“We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing. “ – Robert E. Lee

“Failure is always an option.” – Adam Savage, Mythbuster

“Make excellent mistakes.” – Dan Pink (via Johnny Bunko)

So, the next time you “fail,” think downward!

“One ringy-dingy! Two ringy-dingys!” (with apologies to Lily Tomlin).

In this crazy world of global economies and national searches, the phone interview is becoming a preferred method for initiating the candidate telephoneselection process. After all, if you can call someone up and interview that person for the cost of a long-distance phone conversation, you’ve saved considerable time and expense over flying someone in for a face-to-face meeting. They are often used even for local candidates as a next step in the hiring process.

So, enter the telephone interview. An arranged time for a phone call can allow a company to screen you at a deeper level as a candidate (your resume or network probably got you the phone appointment) to see if they really want to make eye contact with you. If you’re like me, you may prefer speaking face to face, but you should probably hone your phone skills, since you’ll likely have a phone interview sometime.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions for getting your message across through the wires:

  • Use a land line or quality phone connection if you can. Don’t trust cheap cell phones. Also, use the handset, not the speakerphone; the technology just isn’t there yet. The company may be using a hands-free system, but they ARE the potential employer. If you don’t have a quality wireless phone where you’ll receive the call, use a standard phone. Sound quality can be a significant problem if your equipment isn’t up to the task.
  • Make arrangements for your phone line to be free, whether you are calling or being called. If you think other people might try to reach you, advise them in advance that you won’t be available and that you need the phone line to remain open.
  • Gather all of the information you can on the company in advance. Have a copy of your resume and work background, key information you want to share, etc., at your fingertips. This is an “open book test,” so be prepared. There is NO REASON not you have all of your “interview ammunition” in front of you for the call!
  • Make sure the location is quiet when the interview takes place. If the call comes when others are around, be sure to make plans for some silence. Interviewing over the cacophony of a barking dog or a blaring rerun of “Sponge Bob Squarepants” is not likely to impress a potential employer.
  • Review what you know of the position and prepare short “experience stories” to demonstrate how you fit the company’s needs. Since you know when the interview is going to take place and have the ability to keep your critical information within reach, there’s no reason not to take full advantage of the situation.
  • Believe it or not, I recommend DRESSING UP for the phone interview. What you wear is often reflected in your voice. If you’re dressed professionally you’ll sound much better than if you’re in a bathrobe and bunny slippers. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s true!
  • Sit in a comfortable chair that requires you to maintain good posture. Once again, little steps like this will improve your delivery. Voices can slouch just like bodies do. Some people find interviewing while standing up works as well.
  • Use your voice to demonstrate interest and enthusiasm. Speak clearly with good diction, varying your voice to make points. Consider keeping a glass of water nearby, perhaps some lozenges, etc., just in case you need them.
  • You may find that interviewing in front of a mirror is useful, providing some visual cues and feedback which you cannot get from the other end of the phone line. This technique will also give you some insight into your posture, energy level and related variables.
  • Have all of the questions you want the company to answer ready in advance. Be aware that the phone interview is likely to happen early in the hiring process, so bringing up issues like salary and benefits is probably not a good idea.
  • Near the end of the interview, consider asking (in your own words), “As I learn more about this position in relation to my skills and experience, I frankly see an excellent fit and am quite excited about the opportunity to join your company. Are there any areas of concern regarding my candidacy that we should discuss in greater detail?” A strong question like this near the end of the interview may help you clarify any areas where the company may be unsure of you as a candidate. (And it makes you sound good!)
  • Finally, never close the interview without the final question: “What’s the next step in the process?” or “When can I anticipate hearing from you?” Be sure that you have accurate information on the name, title and address of the individual(s) you are speaking with so that you can send thank-you correspondence.

Phone Interviews:  Be all you can be when that call comes in!

Frederick TaylorDeveloped by Frederick Taylor, who was shocked at the inefficiency of a metal products foundry where he worked (much to the dismay of his wealthy family), “One Best Way” became perhaps the first of thousands of management fads that have been foisted upon the working world. Simply stated, Taylor studied each step a worker took to complete a task, seeking to arrange the work setting to get the most efficient use of time, equipment, energy and materials. He then determined the average production a worker could be expected to complete in a work day, creating opportunity for incentive-based “raises,” identification of superior employees, evaluating employee performance, etc.

Not surprisingly, this was not all that popular with the working class, although “Taylorism” came to be applied rather extensively with the advent of World War I. (Interesting, it is worth noting that Taylor and his cohorts did build some “fudge factor” measures into the data, realizing that it was impractical to think that workers could maintain optimum levels of production for an entire shift.)

I ran into an alternative view of Taylorism a few years ago while reading the excellent book Free Agent Nation by Dan Pink (my review of it is in http://www.goodreads.com, by the way). Pink changed the term to “Tailorism,” work that is designed to provide the highest degree of personal satisfaction, meeting the needs and desires of the employee. For the self-employed (Dan Pink’s audience in the book), this is done by fashioning your own career, becoming a true “Free Agent.”

However, for those of us who employ or are employed, there is an equally useful application. As I identify the key skills, values and abilities for myself and those around me, seeking to find ways to apply them to my work and life, I can become something of a “Free Agent” in my personal Career Development. The “One Best Way” becomes the way that maximizes my contributions to the organization by tapping into what I have termed in earlier blogs as my “Best Stuff,” benefiting both me and my company. Progressive organizations should apply this process to virtually everyone on staff, seeking to assist them in identifying, fostering and applying their “Best Stuff” daily.

Now, THAT’s a “One Best Way!”

If you don’t shoot, you’ll never score…

Shots on GoalCommon sense, of course, but seldom acted upon. I like to call this “UNcommon Sense!”

My research (I am an unabashed “data junkie”) recently identified a significant statistic quoted during hockey games: “SHOTS ON GOAL.”

It’s not hard to figure out why this is a critical measure of success. IF YOU DON’T SHOOT, YOU’LL NEVER SCORE! To be sure, you want to develop some skill in executing these shots, but waiting for the perfect line for that killer slap shot that’s featured on SportsCenter ™ will likely keep you from ever scoring!

In the same way, if you choose to take limited action in advancing your search, your career explorations, your professional and personal growth, etc., you’ll likely end up with exactly what you put into it: BUPKISS (nothing, or precious little of value)! To quote The Great One, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”

So, exactly what is the “shots on goal” statistic for your career development?

A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines,Reverse shiftI think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in job search and career development, precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to get anywhere in our work and life.

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that create “win-win” relationships rather than bold-faced influence peddling.

Let’s discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a then sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or had not had contact with in years (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money. The application for career and personal development is obvious!

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change, although I would argue that it is equally useful in employment search and career development. If we continue to connect only with people who know us well, we get caught up in what Ibarra termed as “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities.  If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, the surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Or, with whom have you lost touch from your deep, dark past? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, hobby organizations, places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, that’s a good place to start. The use of social networking applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can be particularly helpful in finding out “whatever happened to…?”.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking Information-Advice-Referral, not working them exclusively for your personal advantage), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and shared insights. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam, you will be “unfriended” and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

Dizzying, isn’t it?

Many of us are near (if not related) to people that I prefer to describe as “Free Agents.” That is, for one reason or another, they find themselves back in the job hunt jungle. In conversations with a clients over the past 25 plus years, I realized that many seldom think about how to assist these folks in their employment search. After all, if  you can’t provide them with a job lead or a killer networking contact, you can’t help them, right?

Wrong! 

Here are some practical tips on being there for them . . .

  • Keep them in your social circle. Unemployment is not communicable and we all need interaction with others.
  • Ask for a copy of their resume. Look it over, learn more about them and what they have done. If you have good advice on how it’s written or how to use it, tell them.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity that may interest them, whether it’s an article in the Business Section of the paper, a sign in the lawn in front of a company or a blog you just read.
  • Provide a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear. Job search is tough sledding. They may just need a sounding board at times, not advice.
  • Maintain regular contact and follow up in a positive and supportive manner.
  • Never ask them, “Did you find work YET?!”

Finally, be a friend. They need one now, more than ever!