Entries in Finding Your Strengths (10)


The Upside of Being Googled

Back in January, I wrote about how potential employers now routinely Google job applicants, and the importance of being aware of what they will learn about you.  In response, one of my readers sent me an e-mail that illustrates the upside of being Googled. 

The reader has a friend who studied computer science at college, and as part of her studies the friend did some research on a somewhat obscure topic in the field and wrote a paper about it, which she posted on her personal web site.  Some time later, a major software company called her out of the blue asking if she was looking for a job and would be willing to come in for an interview, and she eventually ended up working for them.  It seems that the company was doing some research on the same obscure topic, and when they did a web search they came across her paper and were so impressed by it they wanted to hire her.

Being spontaneously approached by potential employer is obviously unusual, but this example does show that while there can be a danger to having your information out on the internet, it can also be a great opportunity when you are looking for a job or clients.

Put your best work on the web where potential employers and clients can see it.

This work can be just about anything you create professionally or as a student.  White papers, business plans, marketing campaigns, student projects—anything that shows off your abilities and knowledge.  In some case, your work will already be on the web, such as white papers posted on a company’s site.  But in other cases it will be up to you to make sure the material is up there, using any of the many free or low-cost hosting services.  And when you can, make sure that your work has your name on it, so that it will show up when you are Googled.  (Of course, for business reasons your current employer or client may not want you to publish some of the work you created for them; always make sure you have permission before posting anything created as part of your job.)

Once you have your work on the web, you can’t rely on a potential employer stumbling across it—not everyone will be as lucky as the friend with the computer science paper—and you can’t even be sure that a potential employer will find it with a web search.  So to make sure that people know about your work, tell them about it. 

For example, my husband, who recently changed careers and became a librarian, is currently engaged in a job search as he attempts to move from a part-time to a full-time library job.  In his current position he has been creating a number of online tutorials and guides to library resources, so the task of putting his work on the web has already been done.  But to tell potential employers about it, he has created a simple web page containing links to his best work, and includes the address on his resume.  That way, they don’t even have to Google him to see what he has been up to.


Be Memorable

Last month, I talked about the importance of always having an “I Wish” or elevator speech prepared so you can turn any social or business interaction into a potential networking opportunity.  But what makes a good “I Wish” speech?  Over the course of the next few newsletters, I will be giving some tips on how to create an effective speech.  Some of the tips will only apply to certain types of “I Wish” speeches—searching for a new job requires a different kind of speech than searching for a new plumber—but I’ll start with a tip that applies to just about any situation.

Consider these two “I Wish” speeches you might use at a party when someone asks what you do:

“Me?  I run a personal organizer business and help disorganized people get rid of their clutter.  You know, filing things and creating lists and such.”

“I make executives more efficient by streamlining their procedures.  I just spent the morning with a CEO who could never find anything in the heaps of papers on his desk, a complete mess.  Now everything has a place and it’s going to stay that way, and he’s getting a lot more work done.”

These examples are the kind of thing you might say if you are trying to drum up business as a professional organizer.  And if the person you are talking with is a potential client, either speech would do – if they are interested in such a service, they’ll probably tell you and you can go into more detail about how you can help them, or at least give them your card and follow-up at another time.

But much of the value of networking lies in letting others do your work for you.  If you can deliver an effective “I wish” speech, then anyone who hears it can become your proxy, thinking of you whenever they encounter a match for your wish.  With this consideration, the second of the two speeches is clearly superior.  By telling exactly who needs you (business executives who want to be more efficient) and by painting a mental image that will stick in people’s minds (the messy desk being cleared away), you make it much more likely that your listeners will make the connection the next time they encounter a disorganized executive who could use your services.

Make your “I Wish” speech memorable by being specific and creating vivid images.

Including specific details in your “I Wish” speech can bring to life what you are seeking, just as telling details can bring good writing to life.  “I want a job in the software industry” is ho-hum; “I want to be the lead programmer on the next YouTube” grabs people’s attention.

Similarly, an “I Wish” speech that creates a picture in the hearer’s mind is more likely to be remembered.  Don’t just say you’re a structural engineer; talk about making sure that bridges stay up in all kinds of weather, and make people see that bridge expanding and contracting with the heat and swaying with the wind.  When you tell what you do (or would like to do), tell it in a way that lets people picture you doing it.


I Wish....

Lately I’ve become something of an expert on Disney animated films, not because of any conscious choice on my part, but simply because I have a two-year-old daughter who has fallen hard for the whole Disney princess craze.  So in the past few months I’ve seen several of the Disney movies more times than the most dedicated film student has pored over Citizen Kane or The Seven Samurai.  Due to this intense study I’ve begun to notice certain common features in the films.  One feature found in most of the films is the “I Wish” song, typically sung by the heroine as the second musical number, in which she tells the world exactly what it is she wants from life.  Think of Ariel in The Little Mermaid singing “Wish I could be/Part of your world,” or Belle in Beauty & The Beast singing “I want much more than this provincial life/I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” or even Snow White singing “Some day my prince will come.”  Of course, the “I Wish” song isn’t limited to Disney films, as it also appears in classic stage musicals such as My Fair Lady (“All I want is a room somewhere”).  The “I Wish” song tells the audience who the heroine is, and by clearly establishing what she wants, it sets up the rest of the action as she struggles but ultimately achieves her goal.

While I don’t recommend bursting into song during business meetings (unless you are a really good singer), you can learn something from the Disney heroines who tell the world exactly what they want.  The business equivalent of the “I Wish” song is the 30-second elevator speech.  The elevator speech is usually thought of as a condensed, memorable pitch for a new business idea or product, prepared and honed for that brief, make-or-break moment when an entrepreneur has the ear of a venture capitalist.  But an elevator or “I Wish” speech can be a much more versatile tool than that, and can help you in your business or personal life no matter what your situation.

Always have an “I Wish” speech prepared to tell others what you are seeking

You always want something that you need contacts to help you find, and you are always meeting new people, or getting reacquainted with people, in a variety of business and social contexts.  Having an “I Wish” speech allows you to easily and naturally draw on all those people (and all the people they know) to help you find what you want.  Whenever someone asks “And what do you do?” or “What have you been up to?” or even “Who are you?” you can use your “I Wish” speech to answer their question in a way that also lets them know what you are looking for, without sounding like a sales pitch.

Sometimes it’s easy to know what should go into your “I Wish” speech.  You may be an entrepreneur looking for funding. You may be looking for a new job.  You may be a consultant looking for new clients.  But an “I Wish” speech can be used for many other things.  Some of my clients have used “I Wish” speeches to get an introduction to a particular CEO, to find a mentor, or to find a good dry cleaner.  If you have an unpublished novel or screenplay in your drawer, perhaps your speech should be about your search for an agent.  Or maybe you need a good web designer for your business, or a reliable plumber.

The first step is decide what it is you wish for – your most pressing current need that someone else can help you with – and then figure out how to talk about it naturally in a casual conversation.  The next step is not to sing about your wish on some deserted meadow like a heroine in a Disney movie, but to tell it to as many people as you can.  Next month I will talk more about how to craft your “I Wish” speech and how and when to use it.


Taking stock on anniversaries

Many large corporations have institutionalized management techniques that are beneficial in theory, but detrimental in practice.  One example is the annual performance review.  It sounds like a great idea – at least once a year, managers and employees should sit down and talk about what they’ve done in the past year, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and make plans to improve things in the future.  If approached in the right spirit by everyone involved, it can be an extremely useful exercise. 

But in too many companies, the review process has turned into a burden for overworked managers and employees, who have to take time out from getting things done to compose elaborate “goals and objectives” documents that are already obsolete by the time they are approved; the process becomes one more distracting bureaucratic hurdle standing in the way of getting your job done.

Still, the idea if not the typical practice of an annual review is a good one, and whether you work for a company with a dysfunctional review process, or are self-employed or otherwise free of an imposed review, you should schedule time with yourself to consider what you have done in the past year, and what you want to do differently in the coming year.

Periodically review your accomplishments and opportunities, and decide what to change.

This self-review should look at what went right and what went wrong in the past year.  Sometimes you can do it all by yourself, but often you will need to solicit feedback from people you work with or who are affected by what you do – your co-workers, your manager, your clients, or your customers.  Based on what you learn, you can then decide what changes to make for the coming year.  Unless you discover you are completely on the wrong track, these changes don’t have to be numerous or large -- often small, incremental improvements are best.  And remember to schedule time in another year to look at things again, and see if you actually carried out the changes and what impact they had.

You don’t need to review everything you do at the same time; often it makes sense to consider different projects on their own.  For example, September marks the first anniversary of this newsletter, so now is a good time for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished with it, what problems I’ve encountered with it, and what changes I want to make in the future.

Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with how it has gone.  I’ve had favorable comments on the newsletter and simply getting twelve issues of the Positioning People for Success Newsletter out in a year meets the goal I set for myself when I started.  But timeliness has been the biggest problem; you may have noticed that issues have been slipping later and later in the month, and the August issue was so late in the month that some of you received copies that were accidentally labeled “September.”  So my resolution for the next year is to get the newsletter on a firm schedule, with issues going out on the 2nd Wednesday of every month.

However, I can’t really objectively review my own creation, and I have to turn to my readers for help.  Send me an e-mail to let me know what you think of the first year--what I’ve done wrong, what I’ve done right, and how I can improve it in the coming year to make it most useful to you.  Then next September we can both look back and see how I did.


A winning “Success Formula”

One of the games I liked to play as a kid was Careers from Parker Brothers, which prepared me for such typical jobs as astronaut, uranium prospector, and Hollywood star (though I’ve noticed that today’s children, playing the latest edition of the game, have to make do with conservation, teaching, and entertainment).  The game’s twist is that before starting, each player secretly chooses their “Success Formula” – some combination of money, fame, and happiness.  You win the game by being the first player to achieve success as defined by your formula.

Though not a terribly accurate portrayal of adult life, Careers does capture an important truth: everyone has their own idea of what it means to be successful, and you can only “win” if you are successful on your own terms, and not someone else’s.  One person may measure success by the size of her house, while another person measures it by how many hours he gets to spend with his family.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget what’s most important to you, and mistakenly feel like a failure.  Our society, and especially our business culture, tends to emphasize measures of success related to money and power, so that many people put undue emphasis on their salary and job title, ignoring other equally valid measures, such as the number of times they smile each day, or how many books they read.

Figure out your personal “Success Formula.”

One of my clients felt like a failure when he came to me.  He and his best friend had both started their careers at the same time, but while his friend’s career had really taken off – he was already a vice-president with a large salary – my client’s career was stalled, with little prospect of advancement.

To help my client get some perspective on what was most important to him – what his “Success Formula” was – I used a favorite exercise of mine, and asked him to write the eulogy for his own funeral.  Reading the eulogy, I noticed that nothing in it had anything to do with his career; it was all about his family.  I pointed this out to him, and it helped him realize that for him success at work wasn’t really about having a big title.  Rather, it was about being able to provide for his family, spend time with them on vacation, and put his kids through school.  Far from being a failure, by his own formula he had already won his personal game of Careers.