Why you don’t want this job – and how to get the right job, part 1

My previous ‘career’ post was about leaving your job. On the flip side is getting a new job (hopefully). If you’re looking for a job, hearing me say “you don’t want this job” probably sounds balony. So – is it?

Do your homework, get a job

Your Career: Right Job Or Wrong Job

Right Job Or Wrong Job?
Only you can tell. Hopefully

This is what most of us consider normal nowadays: do some research into your potential employer. View a couple of LinkedIn profiles of people who work there – maybe you’ll find one of them even blogs. You’ll get to know a lot about the people who may become your coworkers. So far, so good.

But what if you’re so good at job interviews you land the wrong job?

Thanks to a comment I got thinking about this. Some of us are just too competitive. Landing a job becomes a sport in itself. Or you’re applying for every job you can think of just to get the money rolling in. Then you get an offer. One offer.

Your future employer maybe made the job sound a bit more glamorous than it really is. This happens to any job that contains a lot of routine work. Employers dial up the interesting bits, and dial down the days and days you’ll spend staring at a screen churning out numbers or client data.

How to get the right job

Start by getting a clear picture of what you want from a job – apart from the money. Even if you feel this isn’t the right time to be getting critical, you need a reference point to tell if a job is 80% your kind of job, 50%, or only 20% (you’ll probably spot that last one effortlessly).

Check if your estimate is right at your job interview. The match determines how fast you’ll be looking for your next job.

Questions to ask yourself:

What do I love to do?

In my case, I wanted to become an archaeologist when I was a kid. Leakey-style. Digging in the sand to unearth the most amazing fossils. As an adult, I dug around in archives and found some beautiful specimens 😉

I still enjoy combing the long beach of the internet for interesting stuff, and building sand castles on my blog. The nature of a specific job doesn’t change what I love to do.

What do you enjoy doing? What’s the common denominator in your life and career?

What do I have to offer to this potential employer?

How can you help this particular organization doing this job? What are your strengths? What knowledge have you already gained? Sometimes you think you have an answer and you’ll find that your future employer has different ideas of what you have to offer.

I was called “over qualified” so I depended on employers who would let me prove I wouldn’t run away screaming after a few weeks. Then one day I ran into an organization where affinity with art actually helped me get a job over several other candidates who had applied before me. And I didn’t know my background had triggered their interest until the job interview.

Tip: be careful what you leave out of your resume.

What does this job have to offer for my career?

Let’s break this one up into a few pieces:

  1. What tasks does this job entail that are part of the career I would like?
  2. How much time will I be able to spend on those tasks?
  3. What new experience will I gain doing all this?
  4. And a tricky one, do I have a specific goal for the next few years?
  5. If the answer to #4 is yes, how long (minimum) do I want to stay?

Tip for #4: At the organization that offered me an archiving job I could also do the research for my part-time study. That saved me an internship that would have meant little income for months. Did I mention this at my interview? Yes.

Tip for #5 (or 4B): Be prepared for this question. Your potential employer wants to know if you’re worth investing time and training – if you’ll stick around for a while after you reach your own goal.

Read more:

An article on Exertusjobs aimed at anyone over 50. But I’d say you can read it if you’re younger.

An earlier career post I wrote on this blog.

You may have gathered I got the job in spite of, or thanks to, my honesty. It was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get deal. It worked for me. What works for you?

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

Writing as I am at a table in a home in the Netherlands, the abdication by our queen and subsequent coronation of her son is something which makes me wonder how you prepare your successor for a job you’ve had for a long time – possibly decades, although that doesn’t happen very often.

Leave Your Job In An Orderly Fashion

Harvest [click to view image by Vilseskogen on Flickr]

With many jobs, the role remains in some shape where the individuals leave. Unless we run a family business, we don’t (consciously) prepare our children to do our own job – to become our successors.

So how do we prepare our jobs to be taken over by successors we may hardly know?

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

I’ve left a few jobs behind me over the years, though not one I’d done for 30-odd years. Even so I’ve learned a couple of things so far about handing over your tasks to your successor. Here’s my pick-and-mix harvest:

  1. Don’t postpone documenting your tasks until you can see the exit outlined. Make documenting essential procedures a normal part of your routine. It’ll give you something to refer interns or new coworkers to. If anything changes, you’ll be able to check (and show) quickly where your own tasks are affected.
  2. List every task you can think of and write down everything worth knowing for every task on your list. (check if current procedures are up to date)
  3. Make sure you distinguish between priorities #1 and the rest. Don’t pretend everything you do is equally important.
  4. Don’t believe for a second you’ll be able to document 100% of what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.
  5. Don’t believe for a second that nothing will or should change after you leave. You’ll give them a way to keep going without you, until they decide to do things differently.
  6. If you remember why you follow a certain procedure, add your reasons. Those reasons will help your successor understand why a seemingly dull task is important – and if they change anything, they’ll know what to keep or whom to check with before they skip that part.
  7. For preference, have your successor in place before you leave. If you can’t, haul in a coworker who’s not about to leave in the next month or so and have them perform the most essential task from your list. Then improve your documentation accordingly. Including: “If you’re not sure, ask Jake.”
  8. Depending what branch you’re working in (at your next job) give your successor anywhere from 2 days to 1 month to call you if they have any questions.
  9. Leave.

This is all under the assumption that you and your employer are on good terms when you leave.

A royal exit for everyone

Whether or not you were happy at the job you leave behind, don’t make enemies on the way out. If you hated everything about your job, smile on your way to the door. You’re leaving, remember? You can afford to give your ex-colleagues a final royal wave.

How have you left your previous job(s)? Have I left any important bits out?

How improving your learning strategy will help your career

If there’s one thing in my career I’ve regretted it’s not pouring some strategy into my learning processes sooner.

Here’s the thing: I was a fast learning kid. No plodding for me. Sounds great, right?

Career Hurdles and Learning Strategy

Women’s Final of 80 meter hurdles, Olympic Games, London, 1948.
Daily Herald Archive at the National Media Museum [Click to view image on Flickr]

Wrong. The one thing you need to consider – I’m now looking at it as a parent – is that if your kid is (or if you are) very fast on the uptake, part of all that learning capacity should go into the strategy of learning. Don’t wait till your kid is 16 years old.

Questions for your learning strategy

Starting small, explore questions like these:

  1. What is learning?
  2. How can you learn something new?
  3. What different methods of learning are there?
  4. What works for learning different topics?
  5. How can you tell how you should go about a new task or a new subject? It’s ‘meta’ time 🙂

Most importantly, you need to take the whole concept of learning to a level where the task in hand no longer matters. Only when knowing how to perform a specific task is no longer enough does your need to know #5 become apparent.

How can being a fast learner spoil your learning?

That’s easy. My default learning strategy was: “You read it. You read it again. You’re ready.” Sophisticated stuff, I know. It worked for me most of the time.

Oddly enough, it didn’t work with maths after a certain point. Of course now I know that I was trying to memorize everything without understanding any of it.

There’s nothing like a crisis to revise your learning strategy

When did I finally revise my learning ‘strategy’? After I failed big time in my first year at university. I had four exams and failed two. How did that happen? Actually this is a bit embarrassing in retrospect. I failed because I couldn’t read and memorize everything in that foot-high pile of … well, stuff about art 😉

This was an eye-opener. I had skipped maths before my grades reached embarrassing levels. Getting really poor grades for the first time in your life makes it painfully clear you’re doing something fundamentally wrong. It is, as they say, a great learning opportunity. Yay!

It worked. I learned.

How does a learning strategy help you in your career?

Whenever you’re faced with a new task, new job, new career, you’ll find yourself having to figure out what will work best in that particular situation. Doing what you always did will lead to good results in some cases, or it will leave you in a smelly bog wondering what went wrong.

Bringing a strategic approach to your tasks means you will do things like:

  1. come up with a rough guide or plan for a new task,
  2. consciously opt for a general direction that’s most likely to get results,
  3. finetune your actions as you go along.

Take a learning approach to your career – starting today.

More reading:

How do you approach new tasks? Add your thoughts about learning, plodding, career, and school issues in a comment. I will, as always, reply to anything non-spammy 😉

LinkedIn skills for (knowledge management) professionals

Nowadays if you visit the LinkedIn profile of one of your connections you are asked to ‘endorse’ their skills. In this post I’ll explore a few questions about LinkedIn skills and give a quick how-to for hiding (!) your endorsements.

Knowledge management and SharePoint skills: when are you skilled enough?

LinkedIn Skills And EndorsementsQuite a few people I noticed have added the skill “knowledge management” to their profile – including people who were no part of any KM (tools) team. What they did do was upload content in a SharePoint workspace. A few of them have added “SharePoint” to their skills too (no comment).

What’s with this LinkedIn skills rage?

These are the ingredients for my famous LinkedIn skills pie:

  1. A social network where you can share your professional skills.
  2. A crisis, so you’re going to add any skill you have, right?
  3. A shift in people’s tasks. They’ll join a new team and add the skills that go with the job before acquiring the skills.
  4. No option to add a level of skill either for your own skills or when you endorse one of your connections. This means the world is fast filling up with experts in adding links to web parts and uploading documents to document libraries.

#3: Most people don’t add new skills to your LinkedIn profile even though they can. This means that virtually the only way to get endorsed is to make sure you add any skill before it’s even properly cooked.

#4: Level does exist for languages, but many people have left those among their skills. (You may add your culinary metaphor in a comment.)

LinkedIn skills and career change: hiding endorsements

Right now, the skill you get endorsed for the most will get peak position. You can influence what other people see only by hiding your endorsements. By lowering the number of visible endorsements you can move your high-ranking skills down the list.

How do you hide your endorsements?

  1. Edit profile;
  2. Click the edit button on the upper right of your skills section;
  3. Click the tab “Manage endorsements”;
  4. Click each skill to check or uncheck endorsements you need to show or hide.
  5. Save.

The last thing you want if you’re considering a career change, is for new or newly (re)activated connections to endorse you on the stuff that’s already popular. It’s like this:

  • Suppose that in your teens you taught yourself to bake pies. I did – mostly because I enjoyed the making and the eating and it wasn’t serious food so it didn’t feel like work 😉
  • Five or ten years on you cook the most delicious risottos. Except no one asks you for them. You end up having to stuff your lovely risotto down people’s throats before they’ll admit you “do a very nice risotto too”. After which they ask for dessert. Preferably pie-shaped.

Have you ever hidden a skill (in real life or on LinkedIn, knowledge management or risotto) so you could finally draw people’s attention to your other skills?

Brain innovation: why you need to change your mind

Don’t you just love brain talk? I do. Reading this interview with Janet Crawford (part 2, anyway) was both enlightening and inspiring. It answers the question why many of us – but not all of us – find it hard to deal with change. Here’s my take on ‘brain innovation’.

Stuck in a rut? You bet.

Brain change: Meandering River

[Image: The Goosenecks, San Juan river, Utah – on Flickr, by Jesse Varner, 2005]

By the time we’re 40, or 50, we’ve built an archive in our brains of “things that work”. This knowledge and these actions have kept us prospering for years and we view them as good stuff for that reason. These aren’t just words – our experiences have become part of our brain patterns.

Doing something contrary to ‘what works’ is like walking on a path you’ve never taken because you’ve spent a lifetime believing it ends in a swamp. Starting down it takes a conscious decision – and it may take considerable effort to keep walking.

Career change means brain innovation

There’s all kinds of articles you can read about the ‘modern career’ – if you have the time, and in some cases a handy bucket:

  • “Stop looking for job security, focus on income security”
  • “In this fast-paced, ever-changing society we must let go of old beliefs”
  • “Parents telling their kids to get a steady job-with-a-contract are giving off all the wrong signals!”

Right now, our society is less likely to support steady jobs than we expected 30 years ago. But oddly enough not less likely than, say, 80 years ago.

A few career survival skills:

  1. entrepreneurship (even at its most basic)
  2. networking (investing in relationships with people you don’t need right now)
  3. looking ahead, beyond your current working environment
  4. spotting opportunities
  5. selecting relevant topics and new skills to learn about
  6. learning.

Any job where you don’t need even one of these skills is probably not going to help you in the long run.

A woman ‘between’ jobs in her fifties told me: “Nothing in my previous job [at a local government] prepared me for this. I’m reinventing myself.”

Opening up your mind to new possibilities

In brain terms, changing your mind at a fundamental level is much like changing the course of a river. It takes engineering skill or you’ll end up with a mess and the river will return to its old bed no matter what you try.

What if you’re not a ‘mind change engineer’?

Read. Diversify. Develop new interests, or regard those you have as side branches of the river that is your career. They are not ‘just’ hobbies – they give you a chance to explore a side of you that doesn’t fit in with your current job.

How do you keep your brain fresh and open to change?

Your DIY career plan: a beginners’ guide

Why would anyone who isn’t hugely ambitious be tempted to make a plan for their own career? Though it may sound odd, I think everyone should have a ‘business plan’ for their career. By that I mean a rough idea of where you want to go and why. I’m not talking 30-page plans here. Okay, you can if you want to.

Why make a career plan?

Career Plan adds Direction to your job seeking efforts

Add more talents and interests to your career [star and fish from OCAL]

This is the ‘open doors’ paragraph I expect:

  1. If you have a job today, that’s no guarantee you will have one in the future.
  2. Even if you expect to hang onto the ‘same’ job, it will change over time.
  3. Another question entirely is whether you like your job,
  4. – and whether you will continue to like it.

I’ll start from scratch in case you haven’t looked in your professional mirror for a while.

What aspects of your current activities do you enjoy the most?

List talents and interests you can’t use in your current activities, or in the last job you had, and which you would love to find a use for. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • When are you at your best: alert but not stressed out, ready to help, showing others the way to go?
  • When do people seem to listen intently to what you have to say?
  • When do you get enthousiastic – talking about what topic(s), in what kind of situation?
  • When do you feel in control of a situation?

(Jot your answers down somewhere.)

How can you use your talents and interests?

Look for options that are (next to) free to start. Just a few examples to start you off:

  1. If you enjoy reading and used to love writing letters or if you kept a diary, blogging could be a first step to giving this side of your personality some room in your life. What do you want to learn from the experience?
  2. If you love talking about, advising on, or even teaching specific topics, consider where to find people who can benefit from your expertise. Look inside your company, outside, in your neighborhood, and of course online. LinkedIn groups are an excellent place to do a bit of low-threshold advising.
  3. If you’re a people person who loves to listen: find people who appreciate what you have to offer. Anything in a business context is fine for a bit of experimenting. Don’t use your skill in a private setting to give people psychological advice – do nothing beyond listening for clues that tell you whether someone needs professional help rather than a neighbor with good intentions.

Small first steps will let you discover if a specific role suits you, and if it does you’ll find that you feel more confident and energized. Even starting with just one talent will tease out other dormant interests. So there’s no need to tackle every option at the same time. Give every interest about a month’s worth of your attention.

You will undoubtedly discover that some interests will remain hobbies because once you explore them, they turn out to involve tasks that you don’t want to do on a daily basis. And that’s okay.

Start looking around for opportunities to use your talents

Once you give your talents room to grow and bloom you’ll want to build on those humble beginnings. Your budding plan may involve a company of your own – or it may mean you look for new challenges in your current job. Some talents will ease their way into your day job almost imperceptibly, because you view things differently. People are more likely to give you a task that involves using your specific talents if you prove you have those talents, are willing to invest (time, energy) in them, and if you feel confident enough to take on something new as a result.

A ‘business plan’ for your career helps you set priorities

A business plan allows you to determine what you will do and what you won’t. What you’ll invest a lot of time and energy in and what you need to delegate or minimize in some other way so it won’t harm the important things in your working life. In short, it helps you to prioritize your everyday tasks into the good, the bad, and the ugly ones. Delegate non-priority tasks whenever possible – some tasks are a welcome challenge when you’re in your 20s, just another chore at 30, and a right pain in the backside well before you reach 40.

How does a business plan help you if you’re between jobs?

It’s vital to have a sense of purpose beyond what you do here, now, every day.

  • New options appear along the way as your life and your career shape you as an individual and as a professional. Having a plan, taking the first step (at no or low cost), will help you find the direction for your next step.
  • Knowing where you want to go, and why, helps you talk about your motivation for a specific job. Employers like to know how your new job will help you: if you expect a job to benefit you in some way, you’re more likely to be truly motivated.

If all options seem closed to you it’s time to find a new window to let the fresh air in. What would a ‘business plan’ for your career look like?

Hat tricks in business: why change is an unwelcome guest

My earlier post about change management sparked a few interesting comments. Change isn’t always welcomed by the people who ‘ought’ to change.

Why do people treat change like an unwelcome guest?

Change: do you take things as they come? [Click to view on Flickr]

Change: do you take things as they come? [Great photo by Anders Young on Flickr]

People in a business environment are mostly employees, and a smaller part of the group consists of managers, senior managers…

You could argue that change in business means some can’t keep up, and dysfunctional employees or teams show up like a sore thumb. You could even add more (possibly quite cynical) reasons for individual employees to reject change.

Take an employee’s view of organizational change for a moment. Having change thrust upon you for no (apparent) good reason doesn’t help you embrace the process. Especially if you don’t see that there’s anything wrong with you or the way you do your job. But there’s more.

Hat tricks in business

Consider a magician’s classic hat trick in a business environment. Some enthousiastic individual bounces into your office, or cubicle, or wherever, and pushes the hat under your nose. A rather pungent animal smell wafts out. What can you expect? Will you find a cute (but slightly nervous) white rabbit? Or will you end up pulling an unkempt smelly goat out of the hat? Or… worse?

Keep this situation in mind. Now let’s push two distinct groups into the spotlight – call them ‘change advocates’ and ‘bean counters’ – and compare their actions and motives.

  1. Change advocates are convinced that changing [fill in favorite topic] will improve your organization.
  2. Bean counters are convinced that cost cutting will improve your organization’s balance sheet.
  3. Change advocates tell you to work differently in order to achieve more.
  4. Bean counters tell you to work more efficiently so they’ll need fewer employees.
  5. Change advocates believe that a tasty carrot will convince people to change, and say that working differently will make you (feel) better.
  6. Bean counters are of the stick persuasion and say:
    1. If you don’t work more efficiently we’ll fire you.
    2. If you do work more efficiently we’ll wait a bit longer then fire the other guy. Possibly. Unless you grow slack. (If this sounds like Dilbert: I think I swallowed the book a couple of years ago. Have been unable to locate its whereabouts.)

The rest of us are, in the average organization, probably somewhere in the line of fire between these two world views.

Change projects gone cost-crazy

One thing which happens to projects started with the best intentions is that they are interpreted as a way to cut costs by financial teams. Assuming you are in favor of a specific change: if you don’t prepare for this eventuality you could lose control over your project.

How on earth will you combine change and finance without forfeiting every last bit of trust? I would say by starting early and taking the financial side into account from before the word “go”.

  1. Your project plan or business case should show clearly what you intend to achieve and what is out of scope. Prepare a document listing potential side-effects and answer a couple of questions. How likely is it: that this side-effect will occur? That it will lead to a substantial cost reduction? How likely is ‘finance’ to pick up on this possible side-effect and treat it as a fact? How could this impact your project? Evolve a worst-case scenario and look for counter-measures.
  2. Double-check if your plan aligns with any of the plans laid out for your organization as a whole.
  3. Reality check. Meet up with someone outside the financial team, but with a similar professional profile. Risk aversity is a major requirement. Test your plans on this individual to make sure you’re prepared for attempts to hijack a project started with the best intentions.
  4. Make sure you get 1, 2 and 3 sorted out before you enter the bean counters’ den. Otherwise expect fur to fly and the result to be either
    1. some bit of shared Cheshire Cat wisdom on the lines of “if you don’t know where you want to go, you can pick any direction you like” – and your budget slashed, or
    2. your project turned into a cost-cutting tool. A rather ineffective one since you didn’t start your project with the intention to cut costs. And one that will leave any number of employees extremely distrustful of change initiatives in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this post – one triggered at least in part by the comments on my previous post. Have you encountered any ‘hat tricks’ in your organization – or have you seen business change at its best?