ed muses upon

2010/06/29

Staying Focused: Perception & Reality

There are few times when the night is darker than when we are in transition. The colors may seem less bright; the flavors, more muted. If you have been struggling with this, this installment is just for you.

There is a quotation from a Star Wars movie that sums up a revelation I had:

Remember: your perception determines your reality.”—Qui-Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace

While some might think it insipid to find meaning in pop culture, I would remind such readers of Shakespeare’s words: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Perception is critical. If we are angry or depressed, we might incorrectly perceive that we have nothing to offer at a networking event and thereby miss an opportunity to hear a speaker who could have provided some great takeaways, or meet a new contact who can really help. Mindset shaped the course of events, in this case by removing us from an opportunity.

This begs the question: how to leverage this truth most effectively and make it work for us? I submit there are two simple and complementary strategies to maintain a positive attitude and enthusiasm.

Control the Inputs

What this really means: manage the information and moods to which we are exposed. For example, I have a friend whose company I enjoy. However, she has a tendency to focus on the negative: the state of the economy; the difficulties of managing job search; the tragic news story du jour…if in a bad mood, I have to avoid taking her call for my own sanity! Conversely, I have friends whose company I actively seek when I am not at my best because they focus on the positive.

Bottom line, moods are contagious: all I am advocating is the metaphoric equivalent of washing your hands and taking vitamin C. Here are a few suggestions along those lines:

  • Most of us have particular music to which we listen when we’re happy—put some on!
  • Try taking the time to fix a meal of favorite comfort foods! A good meal can nourish both body and soul.
  • Talk to an old friend to catch up and help celebrate his or her recent successes.

Control the Outputs

We know a person by his or her words and deeds: together, they are our outputs and speak to the kinds of people we are. Accordingly, they can be great tools in managing our mindsets.

There are of course two sides to this: the things you refrain from saying/doing, and those you do not. The former is easily addressed: avoid wallowing in feeling bad or speaking ill of former employers or the like. The latter is also straightforward: doing something that helps another person makes us feel good. So to focus on the positive: what kinds of words and deeds are constructive?

  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation for a former manager or report—provided of course you can do so honestly.
  • Grow a relationship with a connection from a networking event with an appropriate news story or job posting.
  • Find a charitable organization whose mission you support and donate some of your time.

Bottom line: the things we do and say can and will affect our mindset.

In summary, managing one’s thinking is important, and there are several easy ways to do it. At the end of the day, controlling inputs and outputs will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

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2010/06/17

Staying Focused: Extra-Ordinary Networking

How we implement our job searches depends upon our needs and the job search techniques that suit our strengths.  But we can’t afford to ignore networking.  We all know the statistic: 80% of jobs are filled through networking.  Yet the nitty-gritty of how to network can be tricky.  Networking can seem not genuine, or artificial.  So how does one avoid that?

For me, successful networking depends upon my ability to solve someone else’s problem.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking with a hiring manager or someone else who’s in transition: the principle remains the same.  So I want to share some networking strategies I’ve observed that you might not have encountered.

Opportunity Knocks: Are You Listening?

My mother is difficult to shop for: she’s quite particular about things.  As a consequence, my siblings and I are in the habit of putting our heads (and wallets) together to find a suitable gift.  When I was younger, my sister despaired of ever getting useful ideas for presents from me: I routinely had no ideas to offer.  It took me years to understand that I should be on the lookout for present ideas as a matter of course.

We all have the same tools available to us to help someone else solve a problem: contacts, knowledge, or just serving as a sounding board.  So permit me to ask you a question: have you positioned yourself to see what those problems might be by asking what they are?

Asking such questions can be a powerful tool for engendering trust and goodwill—which leads me to the next point.

Specific Trumps General

It is very easy to say to someone, “If you need anything, let me know”.  In fact, it’s so easy that sometimes, we might say it before we realize we’ve done so.  I know that I have.  The problem with saying something general like that is that it’s so commonplace that it doesn’t actually mean anything.

When the checkout person at the supermarket asks “How are you”, he or she doesn’t want an actual, honest answer.  And for many of us, it’s a reflex to respond “Fine” in response, without even thinking about it.  But when a checkout person at a store asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for”, we’re more likely to respond meaningfully, aren’t we?

But both of these ideas, of always being on the lookout for opportunities or of being specific rather than general, can be distilled into a guiding principle: be extraordinary.

It’s worth noting the definition of “extraordinary”: beyond what is ordinary.  There are certain traits we each possess, certain skills or perhaps experiences, which make us unique.

I believe there’s a huge desire among people towards conformity: a desire to fit in or be part of the crowd.  But it’s our differences, how we stand out, that draw an employer’s attention.

Keith Bogan, founder of the Whine & Dine network, made this point explicitly: according to him, a recruiter gives a resume less than 20 seconds to catch his attention.  And note the phrase: “catch his attention”.

In other words: a recruiter is looking for something that does not conform.

Being extra-ordinary is ultimately a key part of how you execute your job search, because at the end of the day, being extra-ordinary will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next job.

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