Friday, October 30, 2009

Really Crappy Advice -- And How to Keep It From Killing You

In recent weeks I’ve been watching events unfold in Sedona — that whole James Arthur Ray thing and how people died in an ersatz sweat lodge. I suppose for many people, a terrible event such as this (where people paid $9,000 for the privilege of dying a horrible death, surrounded in the gloom by their vomiting and fainting companions) is so exotic that most people might think, “that could never happen to me.” And that would probably be true.

However, this whole clutch of motivation and self-help teachers has been bugging me over recent years. Most of them are pretty small potatoes. But they promise big, and encourage people to take risks with their money, relationships, future, and careers that they might not otherwise take. The cumulative effect of little damages everywhere can be very destructive indeed. I’m worried that the general public might be even more at risk as the economy continues its stagger, stagger, crawl mode. These are emotional frontiers we’re in, folks, and the woods are lousy with snake oil salesmen – people who promise to give you a breakthrough secret to life in a week or a weekend, for the price of a semester of college or a small car.

I have had in my bookshelf for a couple of years now the book, SHAM, by Stephen Salerno. And I’ve been really reluctant to read it. Primarily because I knew he would blow the lid off of the mechanics behind self-help gurus and their business models. And at the time I was also reading Martin Seligman (the very legitimate founder of the very legitimate positive psychology movement), and I was also dabbling in more than a little Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson and even Joel Osteen. And, frankly, I still like the way their messages make me feel. And while I certainly didn’t buy The Secret’s promises hook, link and sucker (I mean, sinker), having grown up in a family whose mantra was mainly, “ain’t it awful, ain’t it tragic,” I knew there is definitely something to be said for willfully focusing on the positive side of things. A positive attitude is more conducive to creative thinking and endurance during a time where everything seems to be hitting the fan. At least it makes the ride a little more tolerable.

But I also know a manipulative head-game when I see one. (At least I hope I do.) I certainly learned to recognize the signs when I bought into one, much to my ever-lasting regret pretty quickly thereafter. So, I thought I’d lay out a list of danger signs for you – with the hopes of helping you keep your money in your pocket. (I get the fact that this could mean that I might miss out on a few sales of my own books – but at the end of this post I’m actually going to offer you my first book for free. I won’t even ask you for your email address as one of those cheesy quid pro quo gambits.)

Avoid any course with titles containing such words as “breakthrough,” “success,” “transform,” “dream,” “vortex”and whose tuition includes a comma. Speaking from personal experience here. These kinds of courses are mostly warmed over material drawn directly from the texts of books that you can purchase for $20 to $30. There will be much playing of John Denver and hugging of total strangers — most who look like they either haven’t been hugged in decades or they’re really really really looking forward to hugging you. The break times are dedicated to urging you to sign up for the advanced course at twice the price (but today – and only today – slashed to the same amount you just paid for the basic course). My memories of those break times involve softly trance-inducing singing from the stage and a certain zombie-ness of the people moving to the back of the room where tables are conveniently set up, where staffers cheerfully accepted credit cards. Did I get anything of value from that basic week? Yes…my mastermind group is still intact after almost five years. We meet on the phone every other week and have become supportive friends. But have our circumstances changed significantly since we met that that “breakthrough” week? Nope. (As you can imagine, I’m usually the cranky one on our phone calls.)

If you go to any course with a title that includes the words “spirit,” “warrior,” “vision quest,” make sure there is an EMT on call at all times before laying your money down. Most spiritual quests are flat-out scary. Who are these people to say they know the way, and will lead us there through a regimen of fasting, meditation and bodily deprivation? The way people refer to spirituality as Spirit, as if Spirit is their next door neighbor with handy cable piracy skills, is revolting. And the way white Americans romanticize the mysteries of Native American life and traditions is deeply hypocritical or willfully shallow. If they’re so enchanted by the Native American way, how about coming out to the Southwest, don’t stop at the spas or casinos, and spend that week teaching Native American children to say no to crystal meth addiction and alcoholism? Share the inspiring benefits of your own education, skills and privilege, rather than trying to siphon off a few sips of mysticism from authentic traditions that you will never get anyway?

If someone wants to teach you how to be rich (for whatever price), first find out how he got rich himself. Look at the frequent fliers of this particular line of work, and you’ll find out that most of them got rich by sticking their hands into pockets of people just like you (and me). And they’re getting richer. Did he ever grow a company, other than the staff of eager minions he has working for him now? Did he turn around a major corporation? Did he emerge from his own family of alcoholics and desperados to blaze his own trail by making something or contributing something useful to society (that is other than an ultra-expensive retreat)? Is he an unimpeachable researcher who has the gift of translating esoteric, hard-to-understand information into immediately useful ideas that anyone can have for the price of a book? That might be someone worth paying some attention to.

When someone tells you that you’re nowhere without his secrets or gift, laugh and walk away. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I know of one so-called Buddhist guru (she’s American) who actually replaced the words “Higher Power” in the 12 Step Program with her own name. That’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing is that hundreds of otherwise intelligent people said, “Duh, okay.”

Just say no to any product marketed to you via email by someone you’ve never heard of but endorsed by someone you have. These people exchange mailing lists, knowing full well that purchasers of self-help products are the most likely to come back for more and more. The cynicism is mind-blowing.

Avoid self-help books that were Number 1 on Amazon for, like, three hours one day. Again, it’s the lists at work. These people know how to game the system and they use each others’ lists to snag that coveted spot, even for an instant. This way they can call themselves “bestselling authors.” Big whup.

Don’t give up your own dreams. Life is full of true mysteries. My personal favorite one is the mystery of synchronicity. I’m a total sucker for those stories, and I have true, first-hand stories of my own that would curl your hair. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on a synchronicity that I perceive to be an omen. (Even though, in my heart of hearts, I kind of hope it is.)

We all need fresh infusions of inspiration now and then. And personal growth does involve keeping your mind open and venturing into uncomfortable zones now and then. But no breakthrough experience should involve group puking or even close bodily contact with strangers to the strains of “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

Keep your wallet in your pants. Or purse.

(Now for the free offer: I will give you a free copy of my very first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life. For absolutely nothing. Not even your email address. Just click the green button on the home page of Unlock the Hidden Job Market, and it will lead you to free downloads. You can also have a free sample chapter of our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market. Naturally, Duncan and I would love it if you also purchased that book. But you know what? You don’t have to.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are You Too Shy To Network?

My friend Patricia is probably the only person I would call a natural networker. Her worldly possessions have been in storage for most of the last 10 years as she goes where her heart tells her to (always beautiful places: Hawaii; Aspen; Naples, FL; San Diego; hey! Why not?). Jobs and projects fall into her lap no matter where she goes (and right now she’s in Austria after having spent a couple of weeks in Spain). She always has friends to stay with or a house to borrow. I would say she’s female version of Tim Ferris. But she’s her own self. And she makes her way in the world through relationships she builds along the way.

You ever have one of those right-words-at-the-right-time moments that blasts all your illusions away? Patricia gave me the right words at the right time and showed me the way to think about networking. It was a few years ago while she was visiting me on Cape Cod. I was feeling rudderless, pitiful, unnecessary, unwanted, all those un’s that make it such a drag to get up in the morning. Patricia and I were sitting in the livingroom wrapped in blankets and drinking coffee (well, she was drinking herbal tea, of course). I was saying that I just couldn’t bring myself to knocking on Cape Cod businesses begging for a job. And she gently said this:

“It’s not about what you need, it’s about what you can contribute.”



I’d been thinking about networking all wrong! It wasn’t about what a pitiful needy, loser, user I was. It was about letting the world know that I was here to help. Patricia certainly isn’t a needy, loser, user. She moves through the world like a queen (in a good way), and people take their cue from her – treating her accordingly. And she benefits a lot of lives as she goes. She may not have a permanent address (other than her Naples PO box). But she has real friends who love her, and she earns an honest living (thanks to laptops and cell phones), growing spiritually, emotionally and professionally along the way.

You may not want to live the life that Patricia has (although, for me, every time she breezes through Santa Fe, where I live right now, ever fiber of my being screams ROAD TRIP!). And you may not have the flexibility of treating the entire planet as your own personal marketplace.

But then again, maybe you do. At the very least the marketplace that you most naturally belong to needs you! But it may not know you’re there. If your resistance to networking is keeping you shy, I don’t blame you. So maybe the thing to do is examine your beliefs around networking. And maybe change your mind just a little.

Networking is a waste of time. It could be, depending on what you expect from your networking activities. If you want a job right this very minute (of course you do, just bear with me here for a minute), you’re probably going to think that networking activities are a waste of time because what are the chances that any given networking encounter will result in a job offer? To be honest – practically zero.

Yes, I get that you need a job – right this very minute. And networking will eventually bring you that job. But it’s a cumulative effect kind of thing. One person leads to another who leads to another who leads to five others. As my coauthor for Unlock the Hidden Job Market, Duncan Mathison, says: Networking is about planting seeds. Lots and lots of them. Some will sprout. But the more networking you do, the more of those seedlings will sprout. And some – not to drive a metaphor in the ground or anything – will bear fruit.

Still not convinced? What are the chances that staying at home will result in a job offer? Guaranteed: Zeeee-roe.

Most of the people I meet at networking events are people who are out of work themselves. That's probably true. Those networking events are the worst. They suck the life right out of you. They waste your time. And feed your growing sense of despair and overwhelm. So. Stop going to them.

Networking is not about going to networking events. It’s meeting people one-on-one, showing sincere interest in what they do, your shared industry or profession, your community, future trends, ideas, etc.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t network with other people who are out of jobs. But still make those one-on-one events, high-quality conversations where both of you end up with a growing list of ideas, connections, phone numbers, companies, introductions.

People don’t want to meet me. How do you know? Somewhere someone needs you. And that will only happen if you get the heck out of the house.

Just because you don’t have a job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have value and that you have nothing to contribute. People need you. To use Patricia’s philosophy: Get out and find out who they are. Under other conditions would you let negative self-talk prevent you from lending a hand where your unique strengths and gifts can really make life easier for someone? Of course not. So why let the inner gremlins have the power now?

People only want to hire to people who already have jobs. That’s a myth. If you’re unemployed right now, you actually have some advantages working for you. You’re available now. You’re not coming in with that entitled “what can you do for me” attitude. You won’t be taking their offer back to your current boss to try to snag a sweeter offer. Everyone knows that really great talent is on the loose right now because of the massive trend of lay-offs. The fact that you’re between jobs right now is not a black mark on your record. It’s just one of those things.

There’s no point in starting now, since the holidays are around the corner. Wrong. This is absolutely a terrific time to look for a job. Budgets are being formulated for Q1. So while you might not start until January 1, you’d be making great use of your holidays by networking your brains out. And just think, if everyone else thinks that there’s no point in job hunting right now, you are out there with very little competition.

For a great article on this subject, check out: T’is The Season To Follow the Money.

I look like hell. That might be true. If you’ve been stuck at home all day, not having seen the business end of a razor in weeks, it might be time to put on your go-to-meetin’ clothes (assuming they still fit) and see if your car will start.

Not judging here. In recent months I’ve been stuck at home writing books. Yoga pants and t-shirts have been my friends. My business clothes have been on the floor, serving as bedding for the cats. And just yesterday I spotted a coyote sauntering past my windows. And, while I was admiring its glossy coat and bushy tail, the thought came to me that it is better groomed that I am. I picked up the phone and made an appointment. For tomorrow. Can’t wait.

If you look like hell, you know what to do. You probably won’t look like Heidi Klum, once you’ve spruced up. But you won’t look like Tom Hanks in Castaway either.

People will know that I’m only networking because I need a job. So what? You’re not the only one looking for a job. The question is: are you the person they’re looking for? It’s up to you how they’ll regard you. They’ll take their cues from you. If you act ashamed or frustrated, they’ll pick up shame and frustration and treat you like you have a contagious disease. Figure out what it will take to behave with confidence, calm and professionalism. And do that.

Focus your conversation not on what you need but on what they need, what they think, who they might introduce you to, who you might introduce them to, etc. Remember: It’s about contribution, not need.

I’ve already done everything I can think of to get my resume into circulation. No you haven’t. Networking is not about bugging your family, friends, the Rotor Rooter man. A reader actually wrote to me saying that she gave her resume to her mail carrier.

Networking is about expanding your circles of contacts, acquaintances, colleagues. It’s about making lists of people and their phone numbers. Then picking up the phone and calling those folks. It’s difficult, I know, especially for people who don’t enjoy calling strangers. But remember, you’re calling colleagues and peers…people you have something or someone in common with.

These are people you might be able to help.

And that’s what it’s all about.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why "Job Clubs" Are Bad For You

Not that you need the assist, but let’s make this really simple anyway. If you were desperately looking for a gallon of milk, where would you go? To a place where other people who were desperately looking for milk are hanging out? I’m guessing probably not. You’d probably go where there’s milk. Or at least talk to someone you’re pretty sure would know where to find said milk.

So what’s with this trend of job seekers joining job clubs — groups of other job seekers – all equally frustrated in the fact that they’re having trouble meeting people who might have a job possibility up their sleeve? That is not networking. That is wasting your time.

Does that sound harsh? Surely you’ll meet some very interesting, valuable people in these groups. Of course you will. But meet them under different circumstances (like a local volunteer endeavor where you gather to give back to the community, for instance), not when the only thing you have in common is a sense of expiring hope that somewhere in this world there might be a job with your name on it.

This is why these groups are bad for you:

* The time you’re spending with these people is time you could be actively meeting people who actually have leads and introductions that will eventually land you the job you’re looking for.
* They’re convened based on the commonality that everyone in the group is out of work.
* They often do not benefit from the leadership of a professional, such as a truly excellent job search advisor. A well-meaning one, maybe. But that won’t get you the job you want.
* The loudest woe-is-me’er tends to dominate the group’s culture, sending everyone into the Pit of Despair.
* The people there know less about finding a job than you do (you’re here, after all!). And pretty soon your beliefs will be skewed toward hopelessness.
* You will start to think of these meetings as actual networking events. They’re commiserating events. Commiserating events won’t get you where you want to go. No!
* Job club members are likely to be more interested in handing you their resume than really doing anything productive with yours.
* You’re likely to get a lot of stupid advice on how to create the perfect resume (there is no such thing) or put your best foot forward in a job interview (let’s make this simple too: Blow your nose, straighten your tie, be on time, be yourself, be genuinely curious about the person you’re speaking with, no pat answers, no goofy gimmicks, no begging [even subliminally], remember you’re a grown-up with tons of value to offer the world).
* You’ll feel really bad when you do land your job and you have to leave these folks behind.

So what should you be doing with your networking time? Meeting working people in their offices. Your counterparts in companies where you might like to work, preferably soon. Local professors whose expertise is your industry or profession. The membership director of the local chapter of your professional association. Your peers at companies that used to be your competition. People who work for companies or industries you’ve always been curious about but, up until recently, had been too busy working to really set aside the time to explore.

Stay away from groups – especially leaderless groups – where the only thing you have in common with these people is that you’re all looking for your next gig. You’ve got much better things to do with your time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Feeling Discouraged? How to Re-Energize Your Job Search

Did you happen to see yesterday’s NY Times article about how the nation is flooded with millions of would-be job seekers who have just plain given up? No? Well. Don’t bother. It’s a bummer. (But I linked this article to the online page anyway, just in case you’re like me and you just have to take a look.)

Probably someone somewhere said something along the lines of “Fate favors those who don’t give up.” That only seems to make sense when you’re flying high and everything seems to be clicking in your direction. But when you’re in stagger, stagger, crawl mode, you’re thinking something else. Probably something that includes words that my mommy taught me to never say.

While I can’t change your life for you, maybe I can help you restore your faith in fate and your own future. The name of the game here is to re-energize yourself and your search. Put faith back in the saddle (hey, I live in New Mexico, what do you want?). Since I’ve been dedicating myself to the issue of finding work in rock-hard terrible times, I thought I’d share these tips with you:

1. Adjust your expectations. Ugh. Not helpful, is that? Okay. So let’s look at this just a little more closely: Depending on how old you are, your internal clock that tells you that you should have some hot prospects by now may have been set during recent boom times when all you needed as a pulse and preferably no prison record. One reason why you might be feeling the gut-punch of discouragement at this particular time could be that your clock is out of synch with the mud-slow slog of today’s job market. Know that it will take significantly longer this time to find that great job that really is out there waiting for you, and you’ll be able to handle that one-day-at-a-time approach a little more easily. Every “no” that comes your way takes you one “no” closer to that ultimate “yes.” Salespeople will tell you that.
2. Keep your funnel full. Salespeople will also tell you about how important it is to have a full and busy calendar of appointments with prospects, networking partners, information sources, etc. Knowing that you always have new opportunities coming up will keep you relatively relaxed as you deal with the one currently on your agenda. A dud meeting won’t feel so apocalyptic when you have more appointments to look forward to. Don’t let an empty calendar catch you flat-footed and discouraged. It’s awfully hard to get that funnel flowing again when it’s gone bone-dry.
3. Lay off the sugar, fat, and booze (I don’t have to mention the other stuff, right?). Comfort eating will suck the life and spirit right out of you. You’ve seen people eat crawfish in Louisiana right? It’s like that when you eat for coping. Buh-leeve me, I know. Plus, glazed-over eyes and gaposis don’t count as business casual.
4. Expand your networking. My coauthor, Duncan Mathison, for our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market, says that the first wall of discouragement that job seekers hit is when they’ve handed their resume out to all their friends and business contacts with the request that they pass it along to their contacts. And then they wait for a job interview to come back like a bottle in the tide. As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?” Bust out of your immediate clusters of social and work contacts and reach out to people you might not have thought of yet. Professors. Reporters. Your employed counterparts in other companies. The membership director of your professional association. Even Mom’s church friends. In our book, Duncan tells the story of one guy who got his new great job because a church friend of his mother’s had a daughter who…. You just never know.
5. Seek out networking relationships with people who truly have something to offer. Now is not the time to be codependent. You don’t to be a heartless user either, of course. (But you wouldn’t do that anyway, right?) Just like the tip from #3, keep your networking diet filled with healthy, positive people who are functioning in society. You might feel like you’re being compassionate and understanding listening to someone’s problems for the umpteenth time. You’re not. You’re being enabling. And look where it’s getting you.
6. Expand your ideas of what a great career and/or industry might be out there. The steam might have run out on your current professional train. Don’t rage against the wind that no one wants what you do anymore. What good will that do you? Think about all the different ways you can put what you do into good use. Perhaps another industry? Another customer base? Another part of the corporate organization? Maybe the government? Strip away all the external contexts that surround your skills, look at what you offer in terms of the value you bring to a potential employer. And speak to that. Who you can be, not who you once were.
7. Always be ready to talk to strangers. If you follow this blog, you know the story about how I met a guy on a plane from Albuquerque to Dallas, found out that his wife was threatening divorce if he didn’t find a job in Albuquerque. When I reached my hotel room in Connecticut that night, I sent off an email to an HR person at a big manufacturer in Albuquerque. Long story short, he got the job. And it wasn’t ever advertised. You just never know who knows whom. By the way: The missus still divorced him. Can’t win ‘em all.
8. Remember that any conversation can turn into a job lead. I once met someone in the ladies room on the 32nd floor of a mid-town NY skyscraper. Why I was in my underwear at the time is beside the point. But I was. She was the office manager of The Cousteau Society. The position of membership correspondent had just opened up. One thing led to another, and soon I was drinking Perrier and eating brie next to The Captain himself. You just never know.
9. Stop relying on the system. Online job boards are good but they should only take up a fraction of your job search time. Maybe a few years ago, they spat out job leads like tennis balls out of those scary machines. But not anymore. You’ve got to be proactive in your job search. You say you are being proactive? Good. Now. Be more proactive.
10. Be grateful that you’re unemployed. Pretty sick, huh? The thing of it is: In this terrible market, you have to use all your time to search for that next great job. This isn’t a spectator sport anymore. You’ve got to be out there swinging. It’s said that 70% of all job opportunities are never published, so plumbing the hidden job market is the way to find that great job that’s out there waiting for you. If you were holding down a job (probably one that you wouldn’t like but would be too afraid to quit), you wouldn’t have the time to meet the people who will ultimately introduce you to the people who will have the job you would really be happy with.
11. Redesign your goals. The job will come. But it probably won’t happen today. But you can still be successful today. How many phone calls can you make today? Can you set three up more appointments? Can you research 10 new businesses or industries that might be a good fit for your skills and values. Of course you can. Every day you’ve got a job. And this is a job you can do. And once you realize how much control you really do have, you’ll start to feel re-energized.

Note from Martha: These principles were borrowed from my new book, Unlock The Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough, which I coauthored with Duncan Mathison, who spent nearly 20 years at outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin helping executives land their next great jobs. Please pass this on to everyone you know who is out there hammering away at the job market!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why Cooperative Employees Can Be Bad for Business

You might not have noticed this yet because it is, after all, a weekend, and you do have a life. (I, however, am stuck inside working on a book I hear a violin playing somewhere?) But the media is all abuzz about a major blunder (not to mention ethics violations) coming out of The Washington Post, which will be printing a special “note to readers” about it tomorrow. Long story short: In an effort to gin up additional revenue sources, the marketing department thought it would be a good idea to launch high-level salons at the publisher’s house, giving media, lobbyists and other Washington, DC, power brokers relaxed, off-the-record, access to each other (hence – as the information food chain goes – public opinion). In theory a possibly good idea. I’m always looking for a good salon, aren’t you?

Here’s why it’s a bad idea: For $25,000 to $250,000, you too can be a sponsor of these salons. Basically buying your way into the public’s ear. Sort of like a tick. When you boil this scenario down to its core components, it comes out this way: The newspaper is selling extraordinary, exclusive access to its reporters. And it flies in the face of basic journalism ethics in so many different ways, it’s hard to know where to begin.

So I won’t. Unless you’re in journalism, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with your own business. Here it is: If the reports are true, the newspaper’s reporters (the ultimate individual contributor) don’t have it in them anymore to stand together as a group and go: “Uh, hello? Stupid idea!!!! We won’t have any part of it!” And because of this, they allowed the Post to thoroughly embarrass itself. It's quite possible that your quiet employees are letting you destroy your business, too. By accident, of course, but still...

According to today’s New York Times article, the Post ombudsman said that “the plan was well developed with the newsroom.” And that made me wonder, “Really?” Somehow I don’t think so. Not the Washington Post newsroom that I know from growing up in the Washington, DC, area.

Here’s what I’m thinking has really happened: The Washington Post reporters have lost heart. They are too busy doing the jobs of multiple reporters to really focus on any one thing. And they have spent recent years hearing over and over again how newspapers are a business and no one will have a job if journalists refuse to get the fundamental fact of newspaper life: It’s all about making money. Jobs are being lost right and left. Newspapers are closing around the globe. An essential component of democracy – the free press – has been compromised to such an extent I’m reminded of a line in the movie Breaker Morant when the main character casts aspersions on the virtue of a woman he dallied with: “Who’s going to miss a slice of bread off a cut loaf?”

Journalists are discovering the same thing that the rest of us are discovering: The only way to keep your sanity about your job is to not care about your work anymore.

I'm just guessing here, but here’s what might have happened inside The Washington Post: Most seasoned journalists spotted this groovy idea coming down from Marketing for what it was: A spear in the ribs of journalistic integrity; an ethics stink bomb just waiting for the rest of the media (competition) to get wind of it. Some of those journalists may have spoken up. And then got resolutely ignored. Perhaps some of those journalists already have a history of telling corporate that its desperate ideas are chuckleheaded. And some have resolved to not do it anymore, especially when they see people lose their jobs around them. Others are still doing it, but they’ve already been pigeon-holed as contrarians. So they get routinely ignored anyway.

Others just might not know any better. They’re young. They weren’t paying attention in their Legal Aspects of Journalism class – they certainly weren’t paying attention to the part about sustaining objectivity.

Others are just too plain tired. They’ve given up the fight for whatever has remained of the cherished Fourth Estate. They have lost that heart, that fight, that is supposed to be the red meat of good, solid journalism.

Result: Some young suit from corporate – who probably doesn’t know any better either – might have said to the gathered throng of silence: “So. We’re all in agreement, right? Excellent. Carry on.” And then the ombudsman gets to tell reporters from the competition that the plan “was well developed with the newsroom.”

I’m no romantic when it comes to journalism. The field has more mediocre schmoes in it than quality professionals – the same way with any profession. But the thing about journalists is that as a group they are more likely to be a gigantic pain in corporate’s backside than any other profession. And it should be that way.

So when they’re quiet – or even cooperative – with corporate on such a rotten, smarmy notion as sponsored salons, you know that you have a cadre of professionals who had the stuffing kicked out of them. And they just want to hang on to whatever jobs might be left in a dying profession.

As a result, the Washington Post might be a cautionary tale for leaders everywhere. When you suddenly hear silence from quarters where you would normally expect shrieks of outrage, that is not a good thing. That means that you have lost the heart and passion of the very people who used to care enough to send their very best.

Mediocrity prevails when really great people stand by and go, “whatever.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search

Last week I sent out a request to readers to tell me how they were punishing themselves for being out of work. Boy, that was a mistake. My inbox was flooded with emails from people truly in pain for being jobless. They expressed their suffering in alcohol abuse, isolation, insomnia, weight gain (or loss), hopelessness thinking, neglecting the kids, you name it. I got it all. So this week I’m going to focus my message on practical steps for staying positive in terribly uncertain times.

Remember, you don’t get extra points in heaven for your misery here on earth. You also don’t look smarter for being cynical. Not to belittle your suffering here (not at all), I would like to invite you to at least contain it in a sharply defined box, and not let it slosh over into all aspects of your life. Sure, when you do that, you will have really miserable people tell you that you’re just being silly, shallow, stupid by finding reasons to be happy. Let ‘em. Whole lives have been ruined by someone casually dropping their own D-bomb (D for despair, depression) on someone they just passed judgment on and then walking away from the wreckage, not realizing what they have done. Your life is your own to lead, and you owe it to yourself to find happiness wherever you can.

Listen to your heart. If people keep hammering away at you to do the "smart" thing, and your heart is telling you different, listen to your heart. Every time I ignore my instincts, heart, desires, etc., and let myself get talked into something I really don't want to do, I regret it dearly. And quite seriously and painfully.

Treat regrets like cavities. You can't erase regrets. I've tried. You can't even forget them, really. I've tried. Woulda coulda shoulda's should be treated like cavities: Permanent holes that should be identified, cleaned out from debris and the stinking ickies, and then filled with something really strong: gratitude, faith, hope, appreciation for what we have, lessons we don't need to learn again, that kind of thing.

Have a plan of action. The above-mentioned negativos would scoff at this and say, “well, duh.” Yes indeedy, duh. But here’s where I’m going with this: When you have a plan you have something to measure your progress against. Small wins – like how many phone calls did you make today? – are far more within your control than “did you get a job offer today?” Control will keep you from sliding down the muddy embankment of overwhelm. A plan will help you keep your spirits up, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

A plan will also do something else for you: It will give you something to talk about instead of your frustration. This could be especially important when it comes to talking with your significant other. In my book, Rebound, psychologist Bill Berman talks about how the stresses that he sees in marriages, especially around the job search, come from the other spouse feeling shut out. And to be “helpful,” that person starts offering up some well-meaning ideas – which, of course, as we all know, usually makes matters worse. Having a plan of action will stave off the “just get any job, already” last-ditch suggestion.

Declare a moratorium on downward spiral thinking. About 10 years ago, I was flat broke and living on Cape Cod (if you’re going to be stranded in life, Cape Cod is a good place to do that in). This was a time in the U.S. economy where it seemed that everyone was getting rich. And I couldn’t get a phone call returned, much less a paycheck. I couldn’t even keep a part-time job in a local bookstore, of all places. I was definitely in the trenches. I must have exuded some major loser vibe. So I would wallow in the question why? Why why why why why?

One day I realized that this kind of thought habit was getting me nowhere, and probably cranking up the loser vibe to glass-breaking decibels. So I gave myself permission to stop thinking like that. For just a month.

I still worked according to plan. I just gave myself permission to not feel bad about myself and my lot in life every single second of my waking (and most of my sleeping) hours. The relief was the kind of serene, heavy blanket of quiet that can only be compared to those seconds between cramp contractions. It really does feel better when it stops.

Raise your sights, don’t lower them. We’ve talked about this in this space before. Don’t go for jobs you’re clearly overqualified for because you think they’ll be a sure bet. They won’t be. Remember: entry level does not mean easy entry. And healthy hiring managers are not going to be attracted to candidates who are so desperate that they’ll take “anything.” That’s insulting to everyone, including the hiring manager. And you’d be taking away an opportunity from the person who is the right fit for that job.

Be a cluster buster. Great networking (the kind that will get you your next job) is about meeting people in totally different clusters or groups than your current selection of social and professional circles. Use all that energy that you were using beating yourself up, and channel it in the direction of meeting people you wouldn’t have otherwise met before. Seek out one-on-one meetings with these people. I’ll be talking more about that in future columns. But you can certainly teach yourself this material in the meantime. Don’t wait for me.

Don’t depend so much on job boards. They’re good but they’re limited. And every time another half million people lose their jobs (that would be monthly these days), your competition is getting stiffer and stiffer. You’ve got to make your own way. Again, I’ll tell you more about that in future blog postings. Just know that over-reliance on online postings is playing a huge role in bringing you down.

Go out and play. As I’ve mentioned to you before, there have been tons of studies done on how people are more innovative, creative, and optimistic that day after they had a good time -- not the day after they kept their nose to the grindstone. Infusing your life with fun also helps keep up your resilience. If you have children, you also get the side benefit of knowing that you’re setting a good example to the kids that happiness does not depend on a steady paycheck.

Lay off the booze. Really. And pills too.

Coddle your noodle. I know, vitamins and healthy food are expensive. But you are placing a lot of demands on your mind right now, putting your brain through its paces. Give yourself the brain food you need to keep it running at its best. Blueberries, strawberries, walnuts, salmon, carrots, spinach…you’ve seen this list before. Augment the food with a multivitamin, E, all the B’s. We’re talking about keeping your spirits up here, and your brain needs every possible support it can get right now. Don’t be mean to it.

Likewise, watch your explanatory style. When your phone isn’t ringing, what are you telling yourself as to the reason why? When the other person on the line is sounding peevish, is it you? One of my favorite expressions these days is “don’t believe everything you think.” If you punish yourself by assuming that everything bad or disappointing that’s happening is happening because of you, somehow, knock it off.

If you have trouble getting to sleep, you might consider relaxation or self hypnosis tapes. My favorite (and I’m just saying this, I’m not making a penny off of this recommendation) is almost any “paraliminal” from Learning Strategies Corporation. ( There’s one on relaxation which knocks me out. But I like almost all of them, except the one on peak performance. My preference is the ones that feature just Paul Scheele’s voice alone. The ones he does in collaboration with others make me feel rattled.

(I have trouble staying asleep. So in the middle of the night I just reach for the earplugs and start one up all over again.)

In the morning, practice mind control. My waking nano-seconds are my worst time. For decades I’d wake up with a self-abusive tape already running (it’s amazing I’d even be willing to go to sleep the night before, knowing what would be in store for me upon my waking up). A few years ago, I resolved to start up my own brain engine in the morning. So the second I felt myself coming awake, I’d intentionally tell myself all the good things I could about my life, my world, my place in it, etc.

Yes, yes. I’m aware that might come off as very Stuart Smalley to some of you – especially you cynics out there. Tough. All’s I can say is that most of us would never talk to a tender young child the way we talk to ourselves. So if you are like me and somehow got the idea that despicable self-talk was the same as emotional discipline, then you need to change your tune – especially in the morning.

Finally, take your lessons, impressions and influence from positive people who are out there enjoying life and finding ways to thrive. In Rebound, I spoke with people who were laid off and then landed happily. I wanted to talk to those folks with happy endings to report. Let the news programs focus on the dread tales of over-qualified people humiliating themselves in the job search. That’s helping them sell ads; it’s not helping you keep your spirits up. I wanted to help you keep your spirits up by showing how happy landings can and do happen.

Keeping your spirits up will be your most competitive advantage when it comes to finding your next job. Hiring managers will want to work with the person they will enjoy being with 8, 9, even 10 hours a day. Not some sad sack who says, “I just want a job, any job.”

Remember the lessons of Tigger and Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. You want to be Tigger.

PS: Another GREAT way to start the morning is by watching this following visualization tool. It's by the folks who brought us The Secret. I don't know what I think about the Law of Attraction but I do know that an uplifted spirit is its own reward. So check this out. It's free, wonderful, and you can watch without having to sign up for anything:

PPS: If you have a favorite way of keeping your spirits up, email me at and I'll send you a free PDF of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life.

Friday, March 13, 2009

If You're Worried About Acing the Interview, You're Barking Up the Wrong Tree

It’s hard to be choosy these days, isn’t it? The news is filled with stories like the public school that received more than 700 resumes in response to an advertisement for a janitor’s position (did you hear the emphasized detail that the resumes had to be put into a safe? What’s the deal with that? I truly don’t understand what that signifies. I’m thinking that’s just media hype, designed to get you all in a dither about something that’s neither here nor there.). It’s hard to hold onto hope and high standards for what kind of job you’d like to ultimately land when you’re surrounded by messages that the job market world is coming to an end.

Buy into the terrible headlines that people are losing jobs right and left (and, make no mistake, they are), and you’ll be tempted to abandon all hope for a job that’s good enough for you. But let me remind you, as Lauren Doliva said in my new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, there is still a war for talent. “And talent is winning,” she said.

In other words, find the job opportunity that matches your skills, abilities and passions, and you’ll nail the interview – regardless of how worried you are about whether or not you’ll “ace” it. People are still looking for you. You just have to find those folks. And that means you have to be just as choosy as your interviewers are.

Easier said than done, right? Right. I get that. And it’s hard to forget that it’s the interviewer who has the ultimate power to actually offer you the job. I get that too. But remember, you have the ultimate power to say yes or no to that job offer. “Talent is winning the War for Talent,” and you’re on the winning side. Even if we find ourselves in a national economy of 10% unemployment, that means 90% of America is still working. So why not you?

So what does this have to do with worrying about “acing” the job interview? One word: Desperation. Regardless of whether you’re single or married, you probably remember at least one date when all you wanted to do was crawl out of the restroom window. Puppy dog eyes that transmit the message, “you’re my best and only chance for happiness.” Ew! Just typing those words makes my skin crawl. Memories….

So what are you going to do to keep the desperation to a low boil? Or a low howl? Here are some ideas:

Keep your dance card full. Don’t just rely only on online job boards for lining up interviews. If you do, you’ll be sitting at home staring at the unringing telephone forever. Seek out networking conversations that might lead somewhere, even if that lead is only more introductions to additional people you can have informational conversations with.

Get over your aversion to networking. I’m writing a new book right now with the ultra-fabulous Duncan Mathison, who is teaching me (and ultimately you) all about the fantastic networking techniques that remove you from those expensive, soulless, schmoozy schmoozy hiya hiya mixers that make you want to run screaming for the ballroom doors. But while we’re waiting for the book to actually hit the stores, I’ll share with you what I can. Let’s just say for the moment that one introduction leads to another. And you probably haven’t yet met the person who will offer you the job of your dreams. That person will most likely come into your life through a series of personal referrals. And it’s likely that you have met the person who will ultimately lead you to that person. Hmmmm, who could that be?

In the meantime, network your brains out so that you have plenty of options to pick from (or at least you feel as though you do), so you won't worry so much about "acing" the only interview on your calendar -- all the while ignoring the signs that you could be walking into the job of your nightmares.

Remember that when you are in the interview itself, you must be just as careful a shopper as the interviewer is. When you’re talking with the person who might be your boss, find out from him or her specifically what makes the person who will ultimately land the open position a top performer – in the top 20% sparkly bracket. First of all, it’s important to know exactly what those characteristics are. But it’s also important to know if your potential boss actually knows what those characteristics are. How can you please a boss who doesn’t know what he or she actually wants? And then decide whether or not you want to please your boss in just those ways. Qualify your potential boss just as much as they're qualifying you.

Make sure you are willing to actually meet those characteristics. If you’re picking up a vibe of prejudice, attitude or cynicism, don’t automatically think, “it will be different with me.” It probably won’t be. But you won’t really know for sure until you find out what’s behind that ‘tude.

I remember that during my first job interview, I heard the sentiment, “It takes a special person to do this job well.” Well. Let me tell you, that spoke directly to my confused, codependent heart. I thought to myself, “I’m a special person. Whatever the challenge is, I’ll muscle right up to it.” Translation: “I will earn your love.” Boy was I wrong. Boy was I stupid.

What I should have said was, “Really? Tell me more. What do you mean by, uhm, special?” If they were honest they would have said, “You won’t mind being treated like crap by a narcissistic prima donna witch – I mean, boss. You won’t mind being humiliated in front of strangers. You won’t mind being on the receiving end of smug abuse from the person who just had the job before you and was promoted to be your direct supervisor. You won’t mind being set up to fail by people who really don’t care that this is your first job and maybe you could use a little kindness and understanding.”

If all of those things were said to me in answer to a question that I posed: “Really? Tell me more,” then I would say that I aced the interview by getting the fact that I didn't want it. I got the job. I took the job. I lost.

I get emails all the time from people who feel abused by their bosses. They need so much help and emotional support. But the first piece of advice is “beware of the dog.” And in this case, that dog might be a lousy job. Don’t be so eager to ace a job interview that will chain you to a dog.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Don't Turn Your Back on Love

Anyone who knows me well enough to be invited into my house will tell you I have a lot of (I mean, too much, of) several things: towering stacks of aging New York Times that seem to share in my delusion that I really will get around to reading them all, magazines that have bought into the same lie (Coastal Livings get read, Harvard Business Reviews never see the outside of their poly-bags, I’m sorry to say), and books. (There are some who might say that I have too many cats, but I don’t let those people in.)

Some of the books are cynical (like Working, by Studs Terkel). Some are silly (like Your Cat’s Just Not That Into You, by Richard Smith and David Sipress). Some are cherished, like Airman's Odyssey by Antoine de Saint Exupery (you know, of Little Prince fame?).

But the one that brings today’s post to mind is Marsha Sinetar’s book, Do What You Live and the Money Will Follow. I’m so glad to see that just one week short of its 20th birthday, it’s still going strong. Especially these days.

My worry for “these days” is that people are going to be tempted to give up on pursuing their passions, turning a deaf ear to that still small voice, in favor of pursuing some kind of career alternative that is “smart.” Smart or quixotic, we have all been leveled by the same economic scythe. And there will be some of us who might be tempted to put aside our yearning, burning passions to go after retraining in some field that the business magazines have identified as the top careers of the next decade (give, take).

Well, given the state of the journalism career path these days, my question is this: If it’s so smart to go after those jobs, how come the business journalists themselves haven’t dropped their press creds like poisoned pen letters and gone chasing after those gigs themselves? Answer: When your calling is in your blood, there’s just no ignoring it.

You still have to find work that you can love. It has to do more than paying the bills. In fact, if you have found a life’s work that falls just short of paying all the bills, don’t change the job, reduce the bills. Here’s why:

You will like what you see in the mirror. We are not our jobs. And we certainly are not our income. But we are definitely made up of how we spend our working hours. Are you proud of what you do and who you do it for? I sure hope so. That kind of pride is cheap to acquire and excruciatingly expensive to lose. Either way, it’s precious.

You will like whom you work with and for. When you are doing what you love, people who choose to enter into a transaction with you already have something in common with you. There’s a parallel universe of mutual respect that you two immediately engage on. And that just gets any conversation off on the right foot – especially a business one.

You become a much more valuable (read: indispensable) employee. Passion-driven projects ignite your imagination. And when your imagination is sparked, so is your capacity for innovation. And when that happens, boy-howdy! Companies see you as the ticket to their market dominance (at least the smart ones do, and you only want to work for the companies that get it). Which isn’t to say that you won’t ever get laid off again. But if it happens to you under those circumstances, you will rightly recognize it as a loss of a job, not of your livelihood. Big difference.

You’ll love your life 10 years later. Yesterday I reconnected with a friend I had met through work a little over 10 years ago. We haven’t seen each other in a decade but we threw our arms around each other and hugged long and hard (the kind of hug that you get when you’re not thinking to yourself, “okay, was this long enough?”).

I met Evelyn about the same time I discovered my own life’s calling and passion – which is, oddly enough, to study joy in the American workplace. The minute I discovered the kind of work I would love forever, I discovered a new part of myself to love. And when that happened, I discovered a whole new way to reach out to the world and connect with people I will love for the rest of my life. It’s quite a satisfying sequence, let me tell you.

So good times/bad times will come and go. And the jury is out as to how long this particular spate of bad times will persist. So while we’re sitting this one out (to whatever extent we’re sitting it out), let’s learn about love and how we can express it through the work we do and the people we meet along the way.

Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

Special free offer (really, no catch): If you would like a free PDF copy of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life, email me at and I'll send it to you right away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 2

Much to everyone’s surprise, it gets really cold here in New Mexico in the winter – frozen-solid-birdbath-water cold. Consequently I’m never in a hurry to slipper-shuffle down the long drive to the newspaper box – not when the flannel and down on my bed are so warm. And so my first news fix happens even before my first cup of coffee. Courtesy of CNN and my remote control.

This morning there was a segment about how seasoned executives are competing with 14-year-olds for summer jobs with theme parks. One former executive/current job candidate is quoted as saying how this is her chance to do what she’s always wanted to do, which is work with animals and people. To which I thought: Yeah right.

And then I thought: Uh oh. Here comes a whole new Recession-era story line: It’s gotten so bad out there that seasoned executives are competing head to head (in a manner of speaking) with youngsters who can barely be trusted to upsell by simply saying, “You want fries with that?” And then quickly on the heels of that dread scenario will be the executive applicants’ frustrated conclusion that “I am such a loser, I can’t even compete with a pimply pre-pube.”

What recruiter in his or her right mind would even consider a seasoned, middle-career executive for a job that a teenager can – and, by the way, should – do? There’s the over-qualified issue, of course. But even more to the point, these people are totally non-applicable. If we’re going to see more of this kind of behavior, we should add a third category to the problems of being qualified. You’ve got over-qualified (which is often code for being, well, you know). You’ve got under-qualified. And you’ve got N/A qualified. That’s where these people land.

Recruiters know that as much as these people might want the gig now, if they are handed a six-figure job offer in July, they’re going to ditch their summer job in a twinkling. They also know that the supervisors are going to be barely post-pubescents themselves. And who wants that kind of power issue going on? And, perhaps most compelling of all, if you’re talking customer service, just think of all those parents taking their kids to these parks for a jolly holiday and, perhaps, an escape from their own woes. Do they really want to hand their money over to someone just like them? Do they want to be reminded on their day of escape, “Don’t judge, you could be me before too long”? I’m thinking probably not.

N/A stands for non-applicable. It also stands for non-appropriate. And it just isn’t appropriate to crawl down your career ladder just for the sake of a job – even if you need one so badly that first paycheck is all that stands between you and Snidely Whiplash. Plus it’s insulting to everyone involved: you, the hiring company, all those kids who really deserve to take their spot on the first rung of their own career ladder. Entry-level does not mean easy-entry.

Which brings me to Step Two of my conversation with certified executive and life coach, and licensed mental health counselor Meredith Kaplan. (Click here for Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings) Merry (that's her pretty picture at the top of this blog posting) says that if you want to change your life in 2009, Know Your Core Genius is the essential second step. If it’s counting correct change, filling bags of popcorn, and filing customers onto whirl-and-hurl rides, great! Knock yourself out. But I’m thinking you’re capable of more than that. It’s largely a matter of remembering what those things are and holding on to them for dear life.

“You owe it to yourself to figure out what your core genius is,” she says. “If you do it by yourself, brainstorm the answers to such questions as:

‘Where have I had peak experiences?’
‘What have I done that no one else can do quite like I can?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of my work-related skills?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of who I am as a person?’
‘What is it that I have or can do that is unique from other people?’

“These are the traits, skills and passions that can take you further in your career,” she says.

If you come up with a big, fat, “nuthin” when you ask yourself those questions, it could be that your self-esteem has been so hammered by your rough patch that you can’t see yourself as clearly as your friends can. So, says Merry, go to your friends for the feedback you need to get that clear picture of who you really are and what you can really do.

“Seek out people who really know you, people you can really be yourself with, and ask them straightforwardly, ‘What do you think my strengths are?’” she says. Those are the things you want to expand on and use to position yourself in the career marketplace.

Keep in mind all the elements that make up your core genius and you won’t be so tempted to give into the siren song of “gimme a job, any job will do.” First of all, you won’t get it. Secondly, be glad. Just imagine how silly you would feel if you encountered on Saturday the guy who interviewed you for an executive job on Friday. Only now you’re wearing a silly hat and counting change.

(To contact Merry directly, email her at

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Children Are Watching

Looking back on my own career of 30 some-odd years, I would say that the single most important event in my professional life didn’t even happen to me. It happened to my dad. He got laid off just five months before I graduated from college.

I’ve mentioned him before in this column, but in case you’re new here, let me give you a little detail. Well, as much detail as I know myself, which isn’t much. See, he was a covert case officer for the CIA. In street lingo, that means he was a spy. But technically speaking he wasn’t. His job was to recruit spies. We were stationed in places, oh, like Miami, Berlin, Mexico City, Madrid, Munich, Vienna, and, of course, he was in Saigon for a while where he wore a flak jacket over his nerdy 1968 business suit. Students of the Cold War would see this list of cities and go, “check, check, check.” And then rightly conclude: “Wasn’t home much, was he?” Nope. He went on a lot of “business trips.”

Anyway, I’m telling you all this not to brag (well, maybe just a little bit) but to set the stage for why I’m so passionate about the topic of children and work. I learned two things by watching my father through the years. It’s completely unacceptable to do anything you’re not totally passionate about. And, then finally, there is no security in job security. I think the only reason why I’ve never been laid off myself is because I laid my own self off the moment I heard that my dad lost his job – via a callous pink slip that was handed to him while he was on assignment in Mexico City, right in front of a classroom full of baby spies he was teaching that day.

Children of divorced parents, who then see their standard of living plummet when the parents split, learn very early that poverty is just one decision away. And children of laid-off parents learn the same thing. No matter how passionate, brilliant and dedicated you are to your profession, unemployment is one decision away.

And just as children of divorced parents grow up reluctant to throw heart, body and soul into an intimate, romantic relationship, children of laid-off parents get very early that you can’t really trust what your employer says about job security.

In my heart of hearts, I’ve always been “self-employed” because of that hard understanding that there’s no such thing as job security. And while this might be a moderately healthy attitude for an individual to take, it’s really too bad for employers who might have benefited from my talents, skills and dedication to their organization’s mission.

During this time of laying people off, we’re almost in an anorexic thrall. The compulsion to trim and slim seems to have taken on a life of its own – or at least a momentum that is going to be extremely hard to stop. But it will stop one of these days, and you’re going to need to start hiring again.

Where will you get your talent? If this current economic situation lasts as long as the doomsayers predict, you may be drawing your most new hires from the generation that is today’s kids – those kids who are right at this very moment finding out that mom and/or dad are suddenly – and through no fault of their own – without a job.

Assuming you’re still in HR when that time comes, you may look back on this time and think, “Oo, maybe we should have given more thought to the kids.” Remember, it was only 10 months ago or so when we were obsessing about the impending hiring crisis as Baby Boomers retire and their replacements fall short of both numbers and knowledge. That crisis is still coming toward us (even though maybe some of the Baby Boomers won’t be retiring quite so soon).

So how can HR keep the faith with future generations of workers when so many companies (not yours certainly) are breaking faith with their current employees? Here are some ideas, and I sure would welcome more as they occur to you:

Assume the leadership that is rightfully HR’s to govern the lay-off process in your organization. Make your process absolutely top-notch, humane and as generous as you can and drive it from the top. Don’t passively allow individual departments, divisions, businesses, leaders decide who they’ll run it as independent fiefdoms. That’s when stupid management tricks begin to take over.

Make humane the guiding principle of all your lay-off procedures and practices. Tell people what to expect as soon as you know. Maybe some essential talent will ditch the ship before you want them to, but you’re also going to see that the bulk of your people will stick around and help you turn off the lights – if that is indeed your new mission.

Give your people every reason to go home and say good things about your company. Offer them lavish advance notice that their jobs will be eliminated; give them the flexibility they need to search for new jobs while on their current job; pay for training that they need; offer them developmental assignments that will give them essential experience that they can talk about in upcoming interviews. If you have to furlough them only temporarily and you really want them to still be available to you, pay them a reduced salary if they dedicate their free time to community volunteer work. If you have to lay them off completely, remember that you still need to get their work done. So implement new contract-worker programs to keep them onboard as freelancers.

Make sure that coaches and child/family therapists are available to your employees as a resource. Your people may be so thrown by the shock of losing their jobs that they don’t realize how what they say at home will affect the motivation and dreams their children will have about the future. Families in the throes of this stress, shock and even despair shouldn’t be surprised to see school performance suffer and grades plummet during this time. No parent wants to see their children fail, either now in school or later in life. So this is a crucial time in their own children’s development. Help them out with this.

There are all sorts of basic, human decency reasons why employers should support the entire family through a lay-off crisis. But this is business, right? So here’s the business reason to remember that children are watching: One of these days you’re going to want to turn the lights back on again. There’s a whole generation out there who you’re going to count on to throw the switch. Whether they will or won’t tomorrow depends completely on how you treat their parents today.

Do You Know Anyone Who Needs Hope and Encouragement After Being Laid Off?

My new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, hits the bookstores this week! Get it online by clicking the link (which sends you to Amazon) or visit your local bookstore. Barnes & Noble has been a special friend to Rebound, so I bet you'll be able to find plenty of copies there!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 1

If you're a magazine nerd like I am, you might remember when Self magazine was first published. I loved that magazine, especially the feature that always appeared in the back, called Fresh Start. It was always just a one-pager, featuring the story of how one young woman changed her life in a really significant way. Oh how I missed that department when they canceled it. I just loved stories of people who were given the chance to begin again.

Well, here's the deal now. With hundreds of thousands of people being laid off and many more facing the prospect of losing their jobs in upcoming months, we're all being given the chance to begin again. Woo-pee! Right? Yeah. I didn't think so. But, like it or not, change is being handed to us, if not actually being shoved down our respective throats. So we have a choice: we can change our lives intentionally, or have them changed for us. I pick the first choice. Which would you pick?

But, you know as well as I do that no life change can actually stick unless we make the change from the inside. And we have to make that choice happily and hopefully (not in the context of dread and punishment). So, to get the best possible advice for all of us, I went to one of my favorite sources for mental health counseling and positive thinking -- Meredith (the very aptly nicknamed "Merry") Kaplan. (That's her pretty picture at the top of this posting)

(I also interviewed her for my chapter on handling rage in Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss.)

Merry ( is a licensed mental health counselor and an executive and life coach with a national clientele (but she herself is based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL). And she gave me this six-step process to align your thinking around change and to organize the way you manage your life from here on out.

We've broken this interview down into seven parts. Use this process and see what your life is like by 2010! We're thinking that this action process will prove to you through real experience that you do have the power to make your life exactly what you want it to be.'s Step One:

Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings

Merry says, "It's so important to acknowledge your feelings because if you don't you are in denial. And your denial will hinder the process of setting a new course for yourself. Once we are in denial and we are not accepting, we limit ourselves from opportunities for success, opportunities to visualize what it is that we want from our future. Also by acknowledging your feelings, you are able to share them with those near and dear to you. When you are able to verbalize how you feel, you are able to get the support from the people who are in the best position to help you emotionally. They'll be able to understand how you're feeling and respect the journey that you're on. Even if all they can do for you is be a circle of good listeners, that's a very important part of your toolkit for change."

Merry says that even though there might be social pressure to put on a happy face and hide your true feelings, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, you really need to be fully and expressively authentic with both yourself and your closest friends.

"Because of our socialization, it's much easier for women to express their feelings and have their friends and female relatives acknowledge those feelings and be empathetic. It's more difficult for men to express their feelings, especially to other men. When they do have someone in their lives that they really can share those feelings with, it certainly lightens the burden. They can actually reduce the possibility of psychosomatic illness that comes when they internalize toxic feelings. That's when they develop all sorts of stress-related medical problems. So it's extremely beneficial for both men and women to acknowledge their feelings to both themselves and to confidants whom they know and trust."

So Rebound Readers: Here's your assignment for the day...Make a list of all the emotions that are swirling around you right now. Get them down on paper. And then make another list of your closest confidants -- your spouse, your golf buddy, your walking partner, and resolve to set aside some time to share with them those feelings that you might be trying to ignore away, feelings that maybe you think might put you in a bad light. Take that risk.

You know you would want your friends to do the same with you, if they were wrestling with a life change challenge. You would want to be there for them. And, I'm willing to bet, once you show them how to open up, they just might give you that chance themselves!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Do You Know Anyone Who Needs Hope and Encouragement After Being Laid Off?


Hi everyone:

Sorry for the commercial, but I'm so excited to see that Rebound is now available online and in bookstores! I just had to tell you!

For those of you who have been following me over the last couple of years, and then wondered why I disappeared in November, this is the reason why! I was busy writing the book I hope will give a lot of comfort and perspective to people who are facing the prospect of being laid off.

I write about career, legal, financial, family, personal emotional issues. And there are three aspects I'm especially proud of in this book:

1. I interviewed the top experts in their fields to bring the absolute best possible advice together in one volume.

2. Rebound features a collection of first-person stories of people who have been laid off, the lessons they learned along the way, and how they landed happily in their new careers.

3. Each chapter concludes with three quick action items: The best thing you can do; the worst thing you can do; and the first thing you should do.

I hope you and the people you love aren't facing this crisis right now. But who doesn't know someone who is going through a layoff? Here's hoping that Rebound will give them what they need to come out the other side stronger than before!

(By the way, at the moment Amazon is temporarily sold out -- they sold out within an hour of the book being available! But Barnes & Noble's online store has copies still. And Amazon will get a fresh supply any day now!)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Confidential to HR and Other Execs Who Have to Lay People Off: Great Idea!

(Do you know anyone who needs help, advice, inspiration, and hope after being laid off? Please send them to my new blog, Rebound Your Career! It's based on my new book entitled, amazingly enough: Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss, which will be available online and in bookstores everywhere on February 9! Hey! Just around the corner! Yay!)

Check out Preoccupations column in today's NY Times.

The title: "Handing Out the Pink Slips Can Hurt Too," which is eerily close to the title of chapter 12 of my new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss (It's available on Amazon tomorrow!!!!!)

In my chapter I help the readers understand the HR perspective on this terrible time. This way they get at least some comfort in understanding what it's like to be you these days. Not so much fun, is it? I didn't think so.

Embedded in the NY Times article is such a fantastic idea, I wish I'd thought of it. But I'm really glad someone did...and much better that this guy did because the NY Times is better at spreading the word. Here it is:

When you have to lay off really cherished high performing employees, write a recommendation for them on their LinkedIn pages.

Laying people off, especially people you love and you know your company really needs, is excruciating. It's a terrible time for you. So helping them get their new future off on the right foot is essential to both of you!

Don't forget to look for ways to hire them back -- even if it's only on a contract or freelance basis. You still need to get the work done. And they still need the work.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Do you know anyone who has been laid off?

Hi Everyone:

The media has already designated yesterday as "Black Monday." 68,000 jobs were lost in US companies. And the job loss doesn't look like it's going to stop any time soon.

You might already know that the reason I was so quiet on this blog during the November/December/early January time frame was that I was busy writing a new book, specifically for people who have been laid off. It's called Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss. And it's coming out Feb 9! Just a couple of weeks away!

If you want to learn more, visit

But I also wanted you to know that I'm carrying on the conversation I started in Rebound with a new blog:

Since most of the HR Journeys followers are in the people side of business, I thought that you would want to know that I've created this source of advice, hope, inspiration, even a laugh or two on my other blog! I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you'll pass it on to the people who need it most!

Let's hope this year is over soon and we can return to the business of building dreams.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Best Resolutions for HR in 2009

When I wrote last year’s Best Resolutions article, it was very clear that the HR leaders in the country could see big trouble coming right around the corner. And now that it’s here, the question has become: How does HR handle the people side of business now in such a way that we will emerge from this unprecedented time powerful, proud of how we’ve managed these tough times and with our corporate cultures intact? Employee engagement is difficult enough when times are good. But now that times are bad by every possible measure, this is where we discover the essential ways that HR can continue its leadership role to drive the company toward a future outcome that everyone can be proud of.

With that in mind, here is what HR leaders are recommending to be some of the Best Resolutions for HR in 2009:

Resolution #1: I will tell the truth. David Russo, former Senior Vice President of HR of the famously engaging SAS Institute, and now CEO of Eno River Associates, follows up that resolution with this mandate: “HR will not participate in sugar-coating problems. HR will not allow the organizations to either broadbrush or whitewash situations. HR will face up to management and hold their feet to the fire.

"HR will handle things such as re-engineering, downsizing, right-sizing, diversification, and divestiture with honesty, logical business purpose and compassion. HR will not become a partner to bloodletting. HR will tell the truth: ‘This is what we’re going to do, and this is why we have to do it. This is survival mode and this how we’re going to survive.’ HR will make sure that by telling the truth that the best right people are not sacrificed in an effort to stem the tide.

“If it’s communicating up, horizontally, or down, I’m going to tell the truth,” recommends Russo as a resolution for all HR professionals.

“And don’t get wrapped up in little protective lies that turn into big hate-filled conundrums,” he concludes. “When that happens, the trust would be gone forever.”

Resolution #2: I will hold onto the commitment of employee engagement now more than ever. No company can ever afford to be cavalier about customer service and the customer value proposition. Ever. Especially now. And the thing that we’ve learned about employee engagement over recent years is how inextricably linked the engaged employee is to the quality of the customer service promise. So, even though companies must lay people off and cut resources back to the bare bone, they still have to do it in a way that’s consistent with the established employee value proposition.

Says Loren Nalewanski, Vice President, Lodging HR – Work Environment, Marriott International: “The time is ripe for us to ensure we handle all these difficult decisions with dignity and respect for the individual. We have to be making smart, critical decisions that allow us to emerge beyond ‘09 and into ‘10, and even beyond, very very strong. And we have to have the right mindset about our people as we move into this difficult year and not make knee jerk reactions to what’s happening all around us.”

Resolution #3: I will be even more passionate about working with leaders to become positively clear about their personal values, their moral compass, and what they stand for. Says Courtney Harrison, former Managing Director of HR for the U.S. Olympic Committee and now senior faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership, “We keep seeing companies that are going bankrupt, laying off masses of people, or under investigation for legal issues. We’re watching people get led away in handcuffs. And every time we watch another one of these scandals, we think, 'Well, at least we learned our lesson.' But it still keeps happening.

“Good HR people know that the solution doesn’t lie in putting together a one day class on ethics or establishing an ethics policy. True leadership, especially in today’s world is about risk taking, courage, and standing up for what you believe is right.

“Leaders need to be absolutely grounded in who they are,” she says. “And this requires a personal investment and discipline to be reflective. It takes time, and potentially money. And their organizations must be willing to invest in the pursuit of more personal exploration.

“In tough economies, the few great companies out there stand out because they’re the ones that forge ahead with leadership and leadership work,” says Harrison. “They don’t say, ‘we’re pulling back on it because we can’t afford it.’ If there’s ever a time to afford it, it’s now when you need it."

Resolution #4: I will take the leadership role in moving the company forward in creative uses of people. Says Lauren Doliva, Managing Partner, Chief Advisor Network, Heidrick & Struggles, “Companies may be trying to reshape themselves in the context of reductions in force, but in about six months to a year, they are going to discover that there is still work to do. But now there are fewer people to do it. Now’s the opportunity to think about how you’re going to reshape the process of getting your work done.”

The Free Agent idea is alive and well. And those free agents may be the very people you laid off a few weeks or months before. They know the workings and culture of your organization, their relationships with your clients, vendors, etc., are still current. And they may be willing to take your calls now – now that they’ve had the chance to process the shock of having been laid off. Whether you choose to go with the people you laid off from the company, or bring in entirely fresh cadres of talent and innovation, open your mind to the notion of bringing in the best people for the projects at hand.

Resolution #5: I will remind myself that this is a marathon and not let the current economic crisis alter our strategy and focus on acquiring and retaining the best talent possible. Julie Weber, Senior Director, People, for Southwest Airliines, says that you may have slowed down new hiring – maybe even shut down that pipe completely – for the time being, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you’ll be hiring again one of these days. And effective recruiting necessitates a long ramp up of identifying and cultivating relationships with your target talent. Don’t wait until you need them to spring into action. You will already be too late.

“From a recruiting perspective, she says, “I might be tempted to just turn off the recruiting machine and focus on something else for a while. But recruiting is a marathon, and over time conditions will change. We have got to keep those recruiting fires burning. We have got to keep ourselves in the game. We have to continue to be out there promoting Southwest as a strong employer. We have to continue to stay on top of where the great candidates are from a strategic sourcing perspective.

“You may not be building for this afternoon, but you’re recruiting for the next two or three years. Take college recruiting, for example. In order to get the best talent that’s out there you have to start finding those students and talking to them early on in their college career. Not when they’re seniors. College recruiting isn’t something that you can just turn on quickly and be successful at it."

Resolution #6: I will help my organization retain its confidence and competence so that we can get through this. Says Marianne Jackson, Senior Vice President of HR, Blue Shield of California, “We have a good number of people in the Gen X and Millennial generations who have never had to lead through such a remarkable economic crisis. It’s HR’s role to help people keep things in perspective and to discover ways to use innovation to sort through challenges that require solutions that are unlike anything they’ve used before.

“When we’re talking about how HR can help an organization come out the other side of a crisis stronger than before, the usual thing to do is to hunker down and cost manage, do lay-offs, slow down hiring, and try to manage through the implications and effects the crisis has on your brand.

“In this case, we have to focus on the confidence of both the organization and its people. This crisis is hitting everyone – often twice in the same household if both wage-earners are laid off. Then as people lose confidence they lose their ability to innovate. So we have to be committed to providing a lot of compassion.”

Resolution #7: I will stay on top of how my people are handling this crisis personally. Senior Vice President of HR for Lowes, Maureen Ausura, agrees with Marianne. “It’s easy for management to take it for granted that when employees show up for work, they leave their personal troubles in the car. And, even though there is an historical crisis going on right now, we expect there to be no change in their performance.

“So our profession this year needs to make sure we know how our employees are feeling and how we can help."

I’ve already heard those dreaded words that I thought we had left behind in the 1970’s: “They should just be grateful to have a job.”

When I raised that issue with Maureen – strictly from a devil’s advocate perspective, of course, she said:

“That attitude is extremely short-sighted. We know that customer service and satisfaction is what distinguishes Lowes. And our employees are not going to be serving our customers if we’re not serving them. Employee engagement principles drive so many positive business results, that to replace them with the point of view that we’ll just replace them if they’re not performing is extremely short-sited.
“If you damage your reputation as a great employer now, it will take a long time to recover. You can’t just all of a sudden say, “Oh! Now we want to be an employer-of-choice again. People have very long memories.”