Approaching Your Job Transition With Clarity

Originally published in The Nucleus, Summer/September 2014, Volume XCIII, No. 1

Perhaps you are a recent graduate who is looking for his or her first full-time position. Or maybe you are a seasoned chemist who is facing another job transition. Either way, you might feel that you have little control over your situation. At some point during the process, you might experience self-doubt, or feel that you are at the mercy of fate. But here’s the truth: you have more choices and more control over the situation than you realize.

As you search for your next position, it is critical that you update and polish your resume, search on-line job postings and job boards, and network with colleagues and friends. Equally as important, though, is to take time to pause and reflect about the most important part of this process: you. Although your resume may get you in the door for an interview, ultimately it is you – and not your past accomplishments – who will be hired.

This is the time to gain clarity on what you really want, what your strengths are, and what choices you have in a situation that, at first glance, may seem out of your control. Focusing inward and connecting with your inner resources can not only help dispel feelings of self-doubt, but also help move you forward with purpose and confidence. As you clarify and practice talking about your strengths and passions, you will come across in interviews as more confident and excited about your work. More clearly defining the type of position you are seeking will give structured focus to your search and networking.
You can start by considering the following questions:

What makes you unique?

Even if you hold the same degree from the same university as another candidate, your set of values and strengths is uniquely yours. You have your own work ethic and approach to science. Think about the work you’ve done over the years, whether at school or in your last position. How do you approach problems? What do you really enjoy doing? Where do you know you make a contribution? As you answer these, create a purpose statement about who you are. For example, you might be “the discoverer who tackles problems from a bold, new perspective,” or “the conscientious scientist who completes tasks efficiently to move projects along.” Write your purpose statement down and post it where you will see it often, to remind you of your value.

What do you really want?

Get comfortable, relax, and let your imagination go. Let your mind take you to three years in the future. Imagine that you are at your ideal job. Where in the country or world are you working? What is the work environment like? What do you notice about your colleagues? What excites you about coming to work every day? The clearer you can imagine these things, the better. Now, focus your job search to seek out this vision. Reach out to those individuals and companies who are doing the work you want to be part of.

How can you challenge yourself in your job search?

If you’re like most applicants, you are connecting with people on LinkedIn, attending networking events, and handing out business cards. That’s great! And, yet, you can still challenge yourself. What is a bold step that you can take? Cold call a scientist you’ve long admired? Commit to scheduling 20 informational interviews in one month? Form and lead a mastermind or accountability group?

What choices do you have?

Although you might not recognize it, the reality is that you have many choices each day, and many factors are in your control. Not only do you have control over who you contact and which jobs you apply for, but you also have control over your attitude and how you “show up” to an interview. In other words, how do you present yourself when meeting others? How do you talk about yourself and share your accomplishments? Just to be clear, no one is advocating lying. But what you can and should do is bring the best version of yourself – and the leader within you – to an interview. Consciously choose the attributes you want to embody and manifest, such as confidence, curiosity, and a love of science. Find these characteristics and strengths within yourself and bring them to your interview. Leave the self-criticism and self-doubt at home.

Lastly, don’t forget to treat yourself with kindness and compassion through this process. Smile at yourself in the mirror each morning. Each night, acknowledge and celebrate all of the steps – big and small – you took that day to move forward. Most importantly, remember that this situation is only temporary.

How do you make decisions?

Recently, a colleague described the big decision he was facing: whether to continue working (with very little funding) to create a start-up company, or to accept a full-time position at an established organization. Clearly, both situations offered advantages and disadvantages. Making decisions can often feel overwhelming, especially when each choice has benefits and downsides. So, what to do? The next time you are facing a big decision, rather than lose sleep over it, consider the following guiding questions:

How do you usually like to make decisions?

Think about what’s worked for you in the past. Do you make decisions based on intuition, or do you like to make a spreadsheet of all the pros and cons? Do you keep your thought process to yourself, or do you solicit opinions from trusted friends and family members? Knowing the decision-making process that agrees best with you and has served you in the past can be a helpful place to start.

Which values of yours would each choice honor?

Make a list of your values — the things that matter most to you and define who you are and how you want to live your life. Which values do you want to honor at this time in your life? Maybe it’s expressing your creativity, or working in a collaborative environment, or being financially stable? Then, consider your choices. Identify which values of yours would be honored (or not) by choosing each potential path.

How do your choices fit in with your long-term goals?

Before you answer this, spend some time (if you haven’t done so already) clarifying your long-term goals. What would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years? You might want to imagine that you are looking down at your career and life from 30,000 feet in the air. What do the choices look like from up here? Where could each choice potentially lead?

After you have made your decision, celebrate! Then, move forward. It’s time to create something new.

Overcoming Your Inner Critic

Inner critic voices. We all have one — or a hundred. These are the voices in our heads that berate and bully us. These critical thoughts have the power to hold us captive in our comfort zone, so that we never dip our toes into the land of possibility.

Our inner critic strives to keep us safe, to keep us from being judged, seen, and failing. Unfortunately, this is often a disservice. It keeps us small when we are ready to live BIG. It keeps things the same, when we know that we can do much MORE. Yet, fighting these voices can be exhausting; they can be extremely loud and persuasive. The good news is that there are ways you can defend against your inner critic. Here are some different things you can try the next time you hear that internal voice tearing you down:

Give your inner critic 30 seconds of air time

For 30 seconds, speak aloud the negative thoughts in your head. Then move on. Many people find that the thoughts lose some of their potency after they are voiced.

Identify your inner critic

Give it a name and persona, or even draw a picture of it. This reiterates the idea that your inner critic is not you. Then, the next time you hear it, say, “Oh, there (fill in the name of your inner critic here) goes again.”

Shore up your internal support

You might have one or more inner critics, but you also have an inner leader who is strong, all-knowing, and courageous — and capable of being more powerful than your inner critic. When you feel unsure, listen to your inner leader’s advice instead.

Lastly, take action to silence the noise

Write down your inner critic’s name and its messages on a piece of paper. Place the paper in a sealed container, stow it away in a drawer, or shred it.

Your inner critic is unlikely to disappear right away. Keep choosing to say “No” to its message, and say “Yes” to connecting with your strengths and courage, and taking steps to move forward. Over time, those negative messages will weaken.

What other strategies help you silence your inner critic?

Approaching Networking Events with Confidence

Many of my clients dread going to networking events. To them, these gatherings are like going to the dentist — something that needs to be done, and hopefully will be over quickly and painlessly. But by bringing your inner leader and choosing measurable goals, networking events can be empowering, energizing, and a great way for you to feel successful. The next time you have a networking event, make the conscious decision to approach it differently:

1. Bring your inner leader.

Your inner leader is the part of you that is confident and self-assured. The key is to connect with these qualities in you and deliberately “bring” them to the event. Here’s a way to embody your confidence and inner strength: stand up and find the stance that feels most powerful. Perhaps it’s a feeling of strong legs, open chest, and chin up. Notice the position of your legs, shoulders, arms, and head. What do you feel when you stand in this position? (To read more about “power poses,” watch this must-see TED talk by Amy Cuddy). If you stand in your power pose before each event, you will walk into the room feeling more energized and confident.

2. Imagine what you want people to say about you after meeting you.

What’s your intention for how you want to come across? That you were friendly? Direct? Asked thoughtful questions? Set your intention and choose how you want to “be” at the event. Then allow those qualities of yours to lead your behavior. Having an intention makes the outcome you want much more likely to happen.

3. Set attainable and measurable goals for the event.

Get clear on what would make you feel like this event was a success. What would make you proud of yourself? Connecting with 5 new people? Exchanging business cards with 10 people? Having a conversation with one person at a specific company or in a certain field? It’s easier to work toward to a measurable goal than an unspecified goal.

4. Celebrate and reflect.

Be sure to acknowledge yourself and recognize your effort and achievements afterward. Praise yourself for something you did well, especially if you met your goals or were more confident than usual. In addition, take a moment to reflect on what you learned about yourself and your relationship to networking. That way, you’ll know what you want to do the same or differently next time.

How will you prepare for your next networking event?

Approaching Food Allergies from a Powerful Perspective

Whether you are a parent, family member, or caregiver of a child with food allergies, chances are you will face challenging situations from time to time. It’s crucial for you to find support for yourself, whether it’s a friend who will listen, an ally who will implement an action plan, or a mental health professional who will help you find coping strategies. In addition, you might choose to work with a life coach.

Life coaches can help you clarify what matters most to you, what you really want, and how you can achieve that in the most empowered way. To find these answers, a coach asks “Powerful Questions.” The next time you’re facing a challenging situation, consider these Powerful Questions to help guide your thinking, planning, and action:

1. What matters most to you?

Think about the value of yours that you want to honor in the situation. What matters most to you and your family? Safety? Fun? Feeling included? Then make that value the highest priority as you approach and navigate the situation.

2. What’s another way to look at this situation?

The truth is that you get to choose how you approach and “show up” to a situation. Although it may be hard, you do not need to allow anger or fear to color your view of a situation. Instead, connect with the part of you that is confident or deeply grateful or fun, and approach the situation from that perspective.

3. Who is on your team?

Get clear on who your allies are. Think about whose help you want and what help you need from them, and then ask for what you need. In addition, always keep your eyes open for potential new allies to add to your team.

4. What do you want to model for your child?

Imagine the situation is over, and think about what you want your children and other family members to have learned. Do you want to model frustration? Resilience? Problem solving? Then keep this in mind as you move forward.

Although there are always some factors you won’t be able to control in a situation, remember that there are many factors you do have control over. Focus your attention there, and let those other factors go. And remember: you are capable and you can do it.