Learning: the right challenge at the right time

It’s that time in my life where school is suddenly in the picture, via¬†a certain 4-year-old I know ūüôā One thing I’ve already noticed is how ready a child can be for a new challenge.¬†A challenge that is big, worrying, exciting, almost too much to get your head around – yet, at the same time, exactly what you needed without realizing just how ready you were to take on something completely new.

Ready for a challenge

Cat taking on the challenge | Click to view image by Waponigirl on Flickr

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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 ūüėČ

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 change the minds of experienced professionals

Have you ever suggested what you considered to be a minor change to an¬†experienced professional,¬†only to watch them go ballistic? Somehow not everyone likes changes to the way they work – not even if you leave out words like¬†“change”, “improve”, or “different”.

In this post I’ll show you how you could handle this kind of situation –¬†by sharing¬†some experiences from when I¬†did an archiving project.

One common mistake when introducing a change to experienced professionals

You forgot it’s a change to someone’s work¬†– a big deal for them.

How to help experience professionals change

Change: where to stop, how to go forward?

Just because you know what needs to be done doesn’t mean everyone else knows about your plan, or agrees. You’re going to have to convince them no matter what their manager has told you.

Our team’s project goal was to structure and clean out the team archives. The biggest bunch of paper was kept by someone who didn’t care what his manager thought. A previous undiplomatic attempt to clean things up had not improved his temper.

Why do people react so negatively to change?

People build a set of actions that they know will work most of the time. It’s called experience. Telling them to change is like yanking the chair out from under them. I wrote about the way change projects can go wrong in an earlier post.

In my experience, a lot of resistance comes from people who are very much involved. They have made it their personal responsibility to safeguard certain knowledge.

It’s just a set of procedures. What’s so hard about following rules?

Maybe you feel you’re only¬†following the (new) rules. But rules aren’t people.

Experienced professionals know that many new rules and projects will go away after a while, leaving things pretty much the way they were with a few minor tweaks. If you make a lot of noise, some people will wait for you to leave and for the dust to settle after your exit.

Back to the¬†archives: I knew our objectives. And then I let an individual employee get away with about half a dozen exceptions to our rules. Why? Because I needed the person’s cooperation and even goodwill. That’s why.

Importantly,¬†I didn’t break or even bend any rules. I just:

  1. made sure to ‘weed’ the files as lightly as possible, so anyone could reconstruct the process that had produced an important final document.
  2. stressed the potential importance of the files so we’d have to keep them secure for longer.¬†Within that time those files would probably be digitized, and kept for ever. If not, the ‘keeper of the keys’ would be retired before anything happened. Even he could agree that he wouldn’t be guarding the archives past the age of 70.
  3. personally guaranteed to our seasoned professional he’d be able to access the files whenever he asked to.

How do you¬†convince experienced professionals who don’t want change?

Convincing experienced, critical, ‘difficult’ professionals is¬†the only way to move forward without being pushed back in ways you never anticipated. For this you need to understand the role a person sees him/herself in.

For best results, leave people’s professional identity intact.

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 ūüėČ
  • 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?

Bridge the gaps: how knowledge management helps you learn

How are learning and innovation connected to something as outwardly dull as knowledge management? In this post I’ll explore the question¬†how managing your personal¬†knowledge allows you to¬†focus your learning efforts.

Do You Know Where You Need To Go?

Do You Know Where You Need To Go? Bridge your knowledge gaps
Photo posted on Flickr by Halil Gökdal; Vimeo video byEugenia Loli-Queru.

Learning and humor

In my previous post I compared knowledge management¬†to herding cats. Using metaphors can help explain a topic while adding a dash of fun to dry facts (or severely dehydrated opinions). It helps the learning process along. A post I read some time ago was about “comparing apples to oranges“. I enjoyed the post, which was actually about innovative ideas.

Innovative approaches are often the result of looking at familiar topics from a different angle. In that respect, innovation has a lot in common with humor: take two seemingly completely different topics, crash them into one another, and see what happens. If you want a slightly more predictable result, you try to control the process that leads to innovation (or humor).

Using proverbs, metaphors, and other ‘language tools’ in learning is not without hazards. Reading in a non-native language makes it even trickier. For example, I’ve always thought of “comparing apples to pears” (from Dutch) as measuring two completely different things by the same criteria. In that case a perfect orange would make a lousy apple (or Apple). On the other hand, in innovative thinking, borrowing criteria from one¬†context and applying them¬†in a different context may yield unexpected insights.

Connecting knowledge management to learning Рand innovation

You could view personal knowledge management as¬†a controlled way of assessing what you know. ‘Knowing what you know’ gives you a¬†basis¬†for¬†deciding what you else you need to know but don’t. You can then focus on bridging the gaps by either¬†learning about those topics yourself, or by contacting someone who has the necessary knowledge and asking them for help.¬†Both¬†actions have their pros and cons.

  1. By taking control of your learning process, you will gain new expertise which may serve you well in the future. On the other hand, you need to judge what level of knowledge you need. If it’s knowledge on a specialist level which you need urgently, learning may take too much time. If speed doesn’t matter quite so much you can focus on learning the basics and figuring out the rest as you go along. This tends to happen on blogs a lot ūüėČ
  2. By contacting an expert, you ‘risk’ two different world views crashing into each other. If you communicate what you need (and don’t need) from the exchange, and facilitate an honest and open dialogue, you may discover more in less time than if you try to master a new topic by yourself. Moreover, if you bring in a person with a different background, opinion, and expertise, you won’t be able to self-censor anything which doesn’t fit into your view of the topic. This way you open up new possibilities. It’s up to you to then select the things that might actually work for you. This kind of confrontation is useful for innovative thinking, but it’s also a great way to get unstuck if you’re stuck trying out #1.

(I’ve actually done #1 on this blog, and I’ve helped someone out¬†being their¬†‘nearest WordPress.com expert’ so that’s my #2 for now.)

Using knowledge management (KM) to learn

Harold Jarche, in a post on his¬†KM¬†blog, mentions David Williamson Shaffer’s book How computer games can help children learn. After explaining the word epistomology (the study of knowledge, page 10), Shaffer goes on to say:

“…here I argue that computers create both the means and the necessity to fundamentally rethink what it means to know something – and thus what is worth learning and how we teach it.”

I don’t think it’s specifically a computer thing, but I do think¬†computers have made it¬†painfully clear what¬†happens when technology changes and we don’t accept that change means we need to adjust – to learn.¬†Nowadays it’s¬†worth reviewing our assumptions on a regular basis. The problem for many people is that it usually doesn’t seem¬†worth the effort. You can use your time to do either of these things:

  • sit around thinking about what you know, or
  • get your job done and bring food to the table.

If you lose your job, your first inclination won’t be to sit and think carefully but to put the turbo on to get a job. If that doesn’t work you may spend some time panicking before you sit down and (hopefully) think things through. Most of us only sit and think either when we can afford to take the time, or when we have exhausted all other options – when we have to.

Check up on your assumptions (or ‘knowledge’)¬†at regular intervals

What if you take the proverbial ‘step back’ from your canvas every few weeks¬†to check where you’re going, where you want to go, what you need to do next, and what other options you see? Options which you’ll leave largely unexplored for now, but keep in a treasure chest until you want them.

Read more:

How do you view your (personal) knowledge and its management Рhow do you decide what to learn next?

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?