What Do I Know About Career Transition?

I was recently interviewed to be featured in a blog post for a national career advancement organization. “Can you give us five tried and true principles that apply to career and life coaching?” was one of their questions.

What a perfect opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned from working with so many talented and motivated professionals! Here are the big ideas I hear myself sharing with every client in career transition, at some point or another in our conversation.

1. Get your story straight

When asked what opportunity you are looking for, or why you left your last job, you need to have answers that are honest, direct, and positive. For some people, these answers come easily. For others, especially those who might feel direction-less, or whose last job ended badly, these answers will require thought and practice. Remember, you have control over your answers — and the accompanying body language and energy. Practice telling your story from the perspective that is most empowering and in a way that keeps the energy of the conversation moving forward. If you focus on the boss you hated, that’s what the conversation will be about. Likewise, if you focus on the type of challenge you are ready for, so will the person you are speaking with. You don’t want your answers to feel scripted, but you do want to practice different phrases and sentences you might use.

2. It’s all who you know

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: networking matters! When you are looking for a job, you should be talking with everyone you know. Many people make the mistake of networking only with their professional acquaintances or past colleagues. While these people are important, so are people you might know from your gym, your house of worship, your alumni organization, or your child’s school. One of my clients got a lead for a job because she struck up a conversation with another dog owner at the local dog park. Remember: you never know where a job lead or contact will come from.

3. Confidence is critical

I help people transform their self-doubt into confidence. The way I see it, believing in ourselves is critical and underlies everything we do. To show you what I mean, think about your life for a moment. Ask yourself, “What part of my life needs more confidence right now? If I had more confidence, what is it I would be able to do?” Perhaps the answer is that you could leave a horrible work situation and look for a new job; or speak up to your boss and tell him or her what challenges you are ready for; or learn how to play a new instrument. How can you move your confidence up a notch, so that you can take risks and be brave? When we are confident, we radiate energy that impresses and attracts other people.

4. Navigating career transition is like playing chess

When speaking with clients who are looking for a new job, or thinking about looking for a new job, I like to use the analogy of a chess game. When you play chess, you have your choice of pieces to move. Each piece plays a role, and you will likely move all of your pieces during a game. You just can’t move them all at once. Same with job searching. There are many pieces: your resume, LinkedIn profile, interview preparation, elevator pitch, networking plan, and self-confidence. Each of these job seeking “pieces” is important, and we address each of them in coaching, but we take them one at a time.

5. Be kind to yourself

Job searching can be rough, especially when you’ve been at it awhile. Here’s what my clients say: “People don’t get back to me…my emails and calls seem to go into a black void…” Does that sound familiar? Unfortunately, that seems to be the norm these days — which is why it’s even more important to be kind to yourself. You can do this in two main ways. First, celebrate each success along the way, even the smallest ones. Second, take care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy, and spent time with friends and family. Doing these will make you feel better, which will increase your mood and energy overall.

Lastly, be sure to have support along the way. You get to choose your team, so make it an all-star one. Choose family, friends, and support professionals who are supportive and help motivate and inspire you. Then, after you get your job, you can all celebrate together.

Why Networking is Critical

At a recent speaking engagement to job seekers, I asked attendees to rank, on a scale from 1 to 10, how much they enjoyed networking. Some replied zero, others 9. When I asked how important they thought networking to be, almost everyone gave the same answer: 10.

Networking Research Agrees

Networking is critical. Research from the Institute for Career Transitions (ICT) studying long-term unemployed individuals, and the circumstances around which they find their next job, supports this. ICT Founder Ofer Sharone reported that 50% of long-term unemployed individuals found their next job purely by networking, in most cases with past colleagues or professional acquaintances. The other 50% of long-term unemployed individuals found their next position by more traditional routes; however, informal networking (such as resume review or personal introductions) still played a role.

Let People Know What You Want

In many cases, the old adage, “It’s all who you know” rings true. People do business with people they know and trust. Take me, for example. Before becoming a coach, I worked as a medical writer. I was looking for more writing work, and so decided to attend a networking event hosted by the American Medical Writers Association. It was a round table format, and I chose the seat next to a woman who looked friendly. We started talking, and I learned that she did the kind of patient information writing I was interested in at a company that I respected. “That’s exactly what I want to do!” I told her. She smiled, but said she had no need for writers at that time. About a month later, however, her department decided to hire additional writers. She remembered our conversation and reached out to me. After a writing test, I was hired.

Who Do You Know?

When you are looking for a job, you should be talking with everyone you know. Looking for a job in the music industry? Ask everyone you meet if he or she knows anyone in the music business. You never know where asking will lead. Case in point: a woman I talked with told me that she got her last job through her hair dresser. Her hair dresser!

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, I don’t know how to network, or I have talked with everyone I know, or I don’t know anyone. If that’s the case, I invite you to try this exercise:

Make a list of everyone you know. List your family , extended family, past colleagues, college friends, neighbors, and current friends. Include people you know from your gym, church or synagogue, and child’s school or sports team. If you can, next to each name, write down what that person does. You will be amazed at how many people you know, and you’ll be reminded of people you “forgot.”

After you create your list, it’s time to take action. Choose three people to reach out to. Talk with them, and see where the conversations lead.

How To Replace Fear With Confidence

A line in Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, stopped me in my tracks. “I had fixated upon my fear as if it were the most interesting thing about me, when actually it was the most mundane.” I immediately realized that this was how I lived too many years of my life. I had let my fears — of public speaking and taking on new challenges, among others — take center stage for too long. I fed my fears energy and attention, as if they were worthy of reverence. With her simple statement, Gilbert shook me awake.

Our fears are not the most interesting thing about us.

So what is? Gilbert writes, “I had creativity within me that was original; I had a personality within me that was original; I had dreams and perspectives and aspirations within me that were original.”

Our personalities and perspectives and aspirations — those are what make us unique.

Taking that one step forward, what would it be like to refocus our energies and attention to these attributes? After all, these are the parts of us that connect us to others, allow us to make contributions to our world, and remind us what’s possible when we are at our best personally and professionally. Imagine what it would be like in a new situation to stop feeding the fear and instead feed the curiosity and confidence? It would move us from fear to confidence.

I realize that, in coaching, I do this all the time. A client will start speaking about a situation he or she is worried about — usually a situation at work or new challenge. As soon as the “fear” voice starts to speak, I redirect the conversation. “Instead of what you don’t know,” I say, “Let’s focus on what you DO know. List five things right now that you are good at.” Redirecting the coaching with this new perspective immediately changes the energy of the thinking from limiting fear to possibility and strength.

Physician, heal thyself. I know how to remind my clients that their fears are not the most interesting things about them. Now, at the start of 2016, it’s time to cement that idea into my brain. When I fall into the vortex of fear, I hereby resolve to stop, breathe, and remind myself what makes me unique. My ability to listen without judgment, my enthusiasm in guiding others, and my courage in trying new endeavors are only a few of those things.

What’s the most interesting thing about you?

Staying Motivated During a Job Search

“How can I stay motivated with my job search?” I commonly hear my clients ask. Staying motivated, day in and day out, is one of the biggest challenges facing job seekers. Job searching can feel like you are running a marathon with no end in sight. Or it can feel like being in a dark forest, with no clear direction back to civilization. Whatever metaphor leaps to your mind, having tips for staying motivated can help keep you productive so that you can find your next job. When you feel like you can’t reach out to one more contact, or check one more on-line job board, try one of these suggestions:

Choose one small task to tackle right now

The key words in this directive are “small” and “now.” When you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start or what to do next, set small, immediate, and achievable goals that are in line with your larger goal. Identify one small task you can accomplish and recognize how long it will take you to do it. You might choose to draft two emails to send to new contacts in the next 15 minutes. Or you might spend 20 minutes reading a blog by a thought leader in your field. Or you might find four networking meetings you can attend this month by searching on-line for 30 minutes. My clients often report that after they achieve one small goal, they have increased energy and momentum to tackle more.

Acknowledge the work you do

Being appreciated and recognized for our work feels good and helps us stay motivated. With no boss or coworkers to acknowledge your daily job seeking, you have to step into this role yourself. We all know that job seeking is often a full-time job. Be sure to recognize that you are working hard at it, putting in effort, and accomplishing tasks every day. If you do something that feels out of your comfort zone, appreciate your courage. If you write an original blog, acknowledge your creativity. If you describe your skills and strengths well in an interview, give yourself a metaphorical or literal pat on the back.

Start a mindfulness practice

Scientific studies show that having a regular meditation or mindfulness practice can not only reduce our physical and emotional responses to stress, but also improve our ability to concentrate. If you don’t have a regular meditation practice, now is the time to start. If you like guided meditations, you can easily download an app to your phone. Options abound, from free apps, such as Take a break! by Meditation Oasis, to more expensive options, such as the Vortex of Attraction Series. If you prefer to meditate on your own, choose a calm space, sit quietly, and focus on your breath. Notice yourself breathing in and out. Start by meditating a few minutes a day, and try to increase your practice to 15 minutes a day.

These suggestions are only a few of the many ways to keep you motivated during your job search. What other strategies have you noticed work well for you?

Successful Job Transitions

Last week, I brought my 18-year-old daughter to college. As we moved her into her dorm and helped her unpack, I thought about all the change this move entails. She’s creating a new home, leaving her close friends, and becoming increasingly independent — all at once!

We all experience transitions in life, although not every one is as monumental as leaving home for college. But large or small, each professional transition brings its own challenges. Whether you are starting a new job, switching departments in a company, or changing careers, you want to feel good about how you handle the change. After all, I’m guessing you don’t think to yourself, “I want to do a horrible job with this new experience. I want to be miserable and tired and angry.” Right?

Here are a few strategies that will help you stay in control and feel good about how you handle yourself during your transition.

Research your new environment before you start.

If you are starting a job or moving to a new company, find someone who is familiar with that organization’s culture to act as your “culture liaison.” Each company has its own culture, and you want to have some idea of what yours will be like. You might want to ask about lunch. For example, do people go out? Eat at their desks? You might be curious about the social scene at work, and whether people socialize outside of work. You might want to know who the “need-to-know” employees are.

Be compassionate with yourself during the transition.

Researcher and professor Dr. Kristin Neff stresses the importance of self-compassion. Being very critical with ourselves undermines our motivation and causes increased stress hormones to be released in the body. In contrast, when we are compassionate with ourselves and feel safe and comforted, we are in an “optimal mind state to do our best.” When you are anxious or overwhelmed, remind yourself, “It’s OK. I will be OK.”

Have faith in yourself and in your abilities.

Reflect on your professional and personal life, and remember times in the past when you have made a transition successfully. Identify your strengths that were present during those times, and focus on the strengths you currently have that will carry you through this transition. Start with what you do know and what you can do, rather than with what you don’t know and what you can’t do. If you build on your knowledge and abilities and take it one step at a time, you will find your way.

Lastly, after you feel settled in your new job or career, don’t forget to look back and celebrate just how far you’ve come.

Worried About Finances?

Being unemployed can take its toll mentally, physically, and emotionally. One common concern I hear from people who are unemployed is around finances. Having an income stream cut off or dry up can easily lead to anxiety, fear, and depression. It can also make people feel like they have little control and choice in life. The truth is that, even with financial constraints, you DO have control and choices around finances — both around income and expenses. Here’s another belief I hold: that even if you are unemployed, you have the right to smile, laugh, enjoy life, and have fun.

Lowering Expenses

Let’s talk about some of the choices you have around expenses. In addition to having choice around how you spend money and what you spend money on, you can choose to seek out resources to cut your costs.

For example, if you have medical bills, you should know that many hospitals and medical groups offer significant discounts for services paid in cash within 30 days of the service or treatment. If you are hospitalized, talk with the billing office, hospital staff, or social worker before you check out of the hospital to ask for help in lowering the bill. Depending on your situation, age, and condition, the hospital might have a foundation or other funds to assist you.

If you are worried about paying basic utilities, you can look into government programs that can help. In Massachusetts, here are places you can get help with fuel bills and other utilities.

Making Money

You also have choices around finding other ways to make money. You can choose to find a temporary job while you seek more permanent work. Some people refer to this type of temporary work as a “survival job.” Personally, I prefer the term “tapping into an alternative revenue stream.” Rather than think of it as surviving, think of it as tapping into your creativity and resilience.

You might ask, how can I make money? Plenty of ways. To get started, try brainstorming 20 ways you can make money legally and reasonably. You might think your choices are limited, but that’s simply not true. When I led this exercise at a recent conference, people got really creative. Some of the ideas they shared included being a practice patient at a medical center; teaching older adults to use technology; tutoring; and dog walking.

Trading Services

Don’t forget that in addition to cutting expenses and generating income, you can try bartering. Chances are, there are people who could use a skill you have. If you find that you are in need of a service, ask about an exchange of services. For instance, a coach I know provided coaching services to someone who completed a small home improvement project for her.

Remember: don’t let your financial situation define the essence of who you are. You are more than your checkbook balance. You have choices and you have control. Get creative, find support, and take charge of your life.

More Than My Resume

(Note: This is a shortened version of the Ice Breaker speech I gave at Toastmasters.)

What are three things about you that people wouldn’t know by reading your resume?

This was the question posed to our coaches working group, as a way for colleagues to get to know each other. It proved to be such a fun exercise that I thought I’d use it for my Ice Breaker speech today.

The first thing you wouldn’t know about me from my resume is that I have walked among the inner circle of stones at Stonehenge. A few summers ago, my family and I traveled to London; my husband suggested we add Stonehenge to our itinerary. A tour guide purchased a pass for us to access the inner circle of stones. The day arrived, and we drove to Stonehenge. From a distance, the site seemed disappointingly small. Close up, however, was a different story. I spent our hour or so among the stones feeling the powerful energy emanating from them. My children and husband spent the time using the divining rods our tour guide brought. The metal rods spun wildly in their hands when energetic and magnetic fields were detected. To this day, Stonehenge remains a family favorite.

The second thing you wouldn’t know about me from my resume is that I LOVE the beach. I’m fortunate that my parents have a home on Cape Cod, and even more fortunate that they invite me to stay there for a few weeks in the summer. My current favorite beach is in West Falmouth. I walk along the beach, over the rocky part, until I arrive at a smooth sandy area. I stand at the water’s edge and look out. Large rocks rise from the water, with black birds perched on them. It’s the perfect place to stand and think about my life and my work.

The last thing you wouldn’t know about me from my resume is how much I love my work. You would see that I’m trained as a physician and worked as a medical writer before becoming a certified coach, but you wouldn’t know how much I love what I do now. What I love about coaching is that it speaks to the creative and resourceful parts of us. It also provides structure and accountability so people can make real changes in their lives. My clients do amazing things. Every day, I feel fortunate to do this work.

When we shared the three things not on our resume at our coaches meeting, it changed the whole feel of the meeting. Immediately, we became more than our job titles — we became people who lead really interesting lives.

Here’s my invitation to you: the next time you are networking or going out to dinner with a new friend, ask him or her, “What are three things I wouldn’t know about you from reading your resume?”

Enjoy the conversation.

The Time Has Come. The Time Is Now.

This line comes from the Dr. Seuss book “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!” In the book, the author exhorts Marvin K. Mooney to leave the room and suggests many ways he can do this. At the end of the book, we see Marvin go — but only when he is ready.

Just like Marvin, when we think about making a change in life, we have to decide when it’s time for us. We have to decide when to say “enough!” Whether it’s a job that is ulcer-inducing, a relationship that both parties know is over, or a life that feels constricting and confining — we each have to choose for ourselves when the time has come to make a change.
Clients come to me because they are thinking about making a change. Here are some questions I ask them to gauge where they are at:

What are you wanting?

We talk about their vision, and how their job, relationship, or personal growth would be if it were a 10 out of 10, instead of a 3 out of 10. We all have big dreams, but we rarely take the time to stop and imagine them. Thinking about what we truly want is helpful to start uncovering our values and priorities.

What’s the cost to you if you don’t make this change?

People usually respond quickly and say something like, “It would feel bad.” It’s important to really think about this question, though. For example, what is the impact on your friends and family if you stay in a job that makes you miserable? What is the impact on your future customers and clients if you do not launch your business or hang out your shingle?

What would have to change in you for you to take the next step?

When we think about making change, we often think of to-do lists and tasks that would need to be accomplished. But without changes in how we think about ourselves and act, our to-do lists are likely to sit untouched.

To create change, we need to believe that change is possible, and we need to believe in ourselves. Then, just like Marvin K. Mooney, we get to choose how we start this journey.

To-Do Lists vs. To-Feel Lists

What is your relationship with to-do lists? Are you compelled to create one every day? Do you enjoy looking at your list, or does it taunt you with the tasks yet to be completed?

For a change, you might want to try an exercise I recently read about in Danielle LaPorte’s book The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms. (If you haven’t read this book, put it on your reading list and prepare to be inspired.)

LaPorte discusses our daily to-do lists and then poses the question: “What if, first, we got clear on how we actually wanted to feel within ourselves, and then designed our to-do lists?” As a lifelong maker of detailed to-do lists (complete with little boxes beside each item to be checked off), making a “to-feel” list seemed initially like a radical idea.

The directions are simple. “First, get clear on how you want to feel,” says LaPorte. “Then, do stuff that makes you feel that way.” Put that way, it seemed so easy. Last week, I decided to give it a try. I detailed a few ways I wanted to feel and then created an action item to support each one. Here’s what it looked like:

1. Desired feeling: Confident and prepared for upcoming workshops. Action: Practiced my talks and revised my PowerPoint presentation for two upcoming speaking engagements. Result: Appreciated the space to think about my main points and felt more confident and in control.

2. Desired feeling: Happiness. Action: Bundled up and took my ice skates to our neighborhood rink. Result: Skating in the sunshine, with the rink to myself, singing loudly to my iPod — yes, joy achieved.

3. Desired feeling: Wanting to create momentum and move my business forward. Action: Wrote this blog; did a little research for a book project; brainstormed possible workshop ideas and partners. Result: The creative juices flowed. I was reminded that I can take steps to move my business along.

Here’s what I noticed about this exercise: It was fun! Accomplishing the tasks in this manner immediately connected me to the positive feelings they evoked. On the other hand, I also recognized that it was hard to not give in to my ingrained habit of checking my to-do list. Clearly, new practices take effort. I’m looking forward to working at this one to make it a regular habit.

Will you give this exercise a try and let me know what you notice?

Here’s to 2015!

As a coach, I am almost always in the position of asking my clients questions. This time of year, especially, is a great opportunity to ask my clients to reflect on all they’ve accomplished, what they are proud of, and what they are choosing for themselves next year. For fun, I thought I would share my thoughts about those things, as I say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2105.

What I’m most proud of from 2014

1) Finishing my coaching certification and passing my written and oral exams. 2) Saying YES to lots of things, even those things that scared me and caused a flutter of inner angst. Want to write a chapter for a book? YES! Want to collaborate with us to lead a conference about igniting personal growth? YES! Want to get hypnotized to stop eating sugar? YES! (Luckily, the result from the hypnosis was short-lived.) 3) Consciously building my already supportive community of friends and family to create an even bigger community for myself. I am deeply grateful for my friends and colleagues all over the world whom I love, respect, and admire.

What I want to say goodbye to by the end of 2014

1) Old stories that play like a broken record in my head and serve only to keep me stuck and undermine my self-esteem. Goodbye false assumptions about myself and my work! 2) Situations and people whose values are in conflict with mine. I will carefully choose the projects I take on, whether at my child’s school, in the community, or with coaching. 3) Letting fear and anxiety take over when they are not warranted. I imagine this will be the hardest to accomplish, but I remind myself that I have lots of tools and people to support me.

What I’m looking forward to in 2015

1) Becoming a published author! I am so fortunate to be partnering with a group of talented coaches to create a book about transformation. 2) My clients! I can’t wait to see who comes knocking on my door. Whether women wanting to build confidence as they return to work, or professionals looking for a career with greater purpose, let’s get to work. 3) The three-day workshop in April that I will be leading with my amazing and inspiring colleagues. 4) Precious family moments, including my oldest child graduating high school, a nephew’s bar mitzvah, and my parents’ 50th anniversary.

A few weeks ago, at the Massachusetts Conference for Women, I bought a mug from the company IamTra. In simple black and white lettering, it proclaims that “I am Positive. I am Open. I am Limitless.” This is my intention for 2015.

What is yours?