Saturday, August 9, 2014

Keeping up with your skills

Our work world is in full swing, yet there are rumblings of job insecurity everywhere.

Labor statistics are showing increasing volatility and rising unemployment rates. Concerned that this issue will lead to decreased economic growth, leaders of these dynamic economies are starting to focus much more attention on job-creation initiatives. They are feverishly looking at a variety of policy options to prevent a national job crisis. Indeed, our leaders continue to have a difficult role ahead of them.

However, in spite of the fact that pockets of the U.S. economy such as the North East have shown job growth and reduced unemployment, no individual working person should take this news as a signal of job security. That's because in today's world, the only job security you have are your own skills and expertise.

So the question arises, if you are in control of your career, and skills equal job security, what steps can you take to ensure you remain employable? Whether your employer is experiencing challenging times and/or whether a merger or acquisition is facing you, the following tips will provide some guidelines to assist during most volatile times.

Know yourself well -- I've written about this issue many times and may sound like a broken record, but I continue to be amazed at the number of people who really don't know themselves very well. They graduate from school, go to work and blindly follow along, even when they don't like their job. My advice then is to take time to analyze your skills, what motivates you and what environment best suits your personality and communication style. Then, examine your workplace and where you fit. Ask yourself if you will continue to fit.

Plan for continuous improvement -- Understand your industry sector and the jobs being created and upgraded. Learn what additional new skills you need to develop to stay current. Arrange either personally or through work to take courses for continuous improvement.

Learn teamwork skills -- People frequently experience weak skills in the area of teamwork. Teamwork means working for the collective good and this requires different roles. Understand which team role you are best suited for and improve your skills in this area. Do you like to initiate projects, plan them and then delegate the work to others? Or are you best suited to working on the implementation stage?
Seek out a professional certification -- Our workplace is becoming professionalized; by that, I mean official credentials and certifications are becoming the norm. Seek out the industry sector groups related to your job and research the various certifications and professional designations that can set you apart. Join these organizations and get that designation.

Develop a reputation -- Every worker, whether you like it or not, develops a reputation. Be sure yours is one that's recognized for taking responsibility, engaging in hard work, being flexible, sharing and helping one another, teamwork and quality work.

Become a known entity -- Many workers do not make much of an effort to become known within their organization; instead, they stick closely to their own work or their own department. Get out of your corner and get known. Volunteer to organize events. Volunteer for projects. Network with other people from your organization.

Be a good problem solver -- Individuals who can think through problems independently in light of the whole organization rather than from a narrow perspective provide good value as an employee. Think like a leader, act like a leader and new opportunities will come your way.

Be a good listener -- People who are good listeners attract people to them, especially if they instill confidence and help others solve problems. Listen to others, but don't get caught up in their negativity. Steer them toward positive solutions.

Live with a positive attitude -- People with a positive attitude typically have longer career paths than those that do not. Positive people see opportunities within challenging situations. They can make things happen because they take responsibility.

Wrestle down conflict -- Workplace conflicts, be it interpersonal challenges or working with a difficult boss, are all issues workers confront. Deal with conflict before it escalates and avoid making workplace enemies. Career longevity depends on your ability to effectively deal with conflict. Finally, don't hold a grudge.

Achieve top player status -- While organizational concerns may sometimes consume your thoughts, be sure you stay focused on doing quality work every hour of the day. Be on time and on budget. Bosses want to count on someone who is sincere, hard working and dedicated. Longevity comes for employees who can be counted on to get things done. However, be sure your job and your projects are focused on core business initiatives.

Develop a big picture view -- Employees who can see the big picture offer good value to their workplace. Watch your industry trends and identify the strengths and vulnerabilities of your organization. Know how your work contributes to the whole and determine how you can continue to fit into the organization.

Be creative and speak up -- Take your concrete and creative suggestions for making work-related improvements and speak up. Believe me, organizations value individuals who make suggestions and recommendations, especially those that save time and money and improve quality. Go for it!

Flexibility is key -- Employees who are more flexible and can more easily adapt to changes in projects and people are highly valuable to an organization. Take on more responsibility when needed, try new tasks. Do more than you were asked as flexibility, quality work and personal initiative gain trust and respect.

Keep the resume up to date -- Most people take themselves for granted and fail to give themselves credit for their skills. Not only that, they also neglect documenting the many great accomplishments experienced in the workplace. Get that resume up to date and keep it current. You may never have to use it but when the time comes, you are ready and don't have to struggle to recall the details of your many achievements.

Our work environment is constantly changing and this makes life somewhat uncertain. However, instead of living in a state of fear about losing your job, take positive steps to increase your value, build and refresh your skills. Keep in mind, that the only job security is you.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Can Positive Thinking Get you Hired?

Believe it or not, consistent positive thinking will help you develop inner peace, success, improved relationships, better health, happiness, personal satisfaction, and yes, get you hired. Applying for job after job creates a drain in your well being. Positive thinking will help you deal with daily challenges of life more smoothly, and will lead the future to be brighter and more promising. Positive thinking CAN be your key to success! Positive thinking is contagious. People around you do detect your mental moods and are affected accordingly.

Think about happiness, good health and success, and people will more likely appreciate you and want to be around you, because they enjoy the atmosphere that a positive attitude produces.

In order for positive thinking to produce results, you need to develop a positive attitude toward life, expect a successful outcome of whatever you do, and take action to do what is necessary to ensure your success.

Effective positive thinking that brings results is much more than just repeating a few positive words, or telling yourself that everything is going to be all right. It has to be your primary mental attitude. It is not enough to think positively for a few moments, and then letting fears and lack of belief enter your mind. Some effort and inner work are necessary.

Are you really willing to change the way you think; to make a real inner change? Are you willing to develop a mental power that can positively affect you, your environment and the people around you? Here are a few actions and tips to help you develop the power of positive thinking:

· First, STOP with the negative attitude and speaking negative words about everything you talk about!

· Use positive words while thinking and while talking. Use words like, "I can," "I am able," "It is possible," "It can be done," etc.

· Actively focus on thoughts of success, strength and happiness.

· Try to disregard and ignore negative thoughts. Refuse to think such thoughts, and substitute them with constructive good ideas.

· In your conversation use words that suggest feelings and mental images of strength, happiness and success.

· Before starting with any plan or action, visualize clearly in your mind its successful outcome.

· Read at least one page of inspiring book every day.

· Surround yourself with people who think positively.

· Watch movies that make you happy.

· Always sit and walk with your back straight. This will strengthen your confidence and inner strength.

· Walk, swim or engage in some other physical activity. This helps to develop a more positive attitude.

· Minimize the time you listen to the news and read the newspapers.

. Keep sending out resumes!

Think positive and expect favorable results and situations, even if your current situation is not what you wish. In time, your mental attitude will help you to position your life and circumstances and change them accordingly.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Focus on the Now

There is a saying that goes - "The past is already gone. The future is not yet born. Therefore, only the present is in our hand".

The present is our wealth. If we become aware of it, there is a choice for us to enrich it, enhance it, invest it and increase it manifold. Living in the present ensures exploring the possibility of advantages, looking at the brighter side of situations and future advantages. In practical life, some situations are to be left alone so that time can heal such situations. One must focus on what is happening at the moment. Appreciate what is right about the situation and build on it. Pay attention to what is important right now. Somewhere it becomes necessary to forgive and forget. Compassion is a powerful tool to release us from the clutches of botherations of the past and some situations in the present too.

Whenever we become unhappy in the present or are unsuccessful, it is time to learn from the past. When we understand that something is interfering with our enjoying the present, it is time to look at the past and learn from it. When we learn from past, we can improve the present better than the past. Past is past. By conducting a postmortem of the past, we cannot make better the past. But the lessons we learn out of the past events can be applied in the present by doing things differently to enjoy the present. By fully living in the present, we are able to appreciate the world around and we become more effective and make progress.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I hate my boss, what can I do?

If I had a penny for every time I have heard this, I would be writing this blog from my permanent residence in Costa Rica. Yes, some bosses are definitely extremely difficult to deal with but being angry about it is not going to help you or your career.  You may ask yourself, why play games and change the negative into a positive? Why do I have to pretend that I don't hate my boss?

Well... you don't have to pretend anything but you need to realize that a little change on your part, could go a long way with your relationship to your boss. If you feel like killing someone, will you be honest and kill him? I don't suppose so. When you are upset, be honest and say yes, I am upset. Then, will staying upset help you? I don't think it will, and for this reason I would encourage you to change. You'd be surprised how a small change in your attitude towards your boss can change your perception of him/her and make your job a lot easier.

I recently read this story and I think it is appropriate for this blog.

A lady approached a Taoist monk and told him, 'My mother-in-law is creating hell in my life, can you give me some medicine to be given to her that would make her die?'

The monk gave her some medicine and asked her to mix it in tea before giving it to her mother-in-law. The only condition, he said, 'Be very kind and loving to her, only then would the medicine work. Also when she dies no one will suspect you. She will die after two months.'

After one month she returned to the monk and pleaded, 'I do not want my mother-in-law to die, she has changed. She is very kind to me nowadays.' The monk said, 'More than the medicine, it is your love that worked.'

Enough said!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

An important exercise we can do is to think without the use of memory. Our thinking is clouded by memory. That is why we really never think but just remember. Most of our thinking is just fixed opinions and attitudes. For example, something we have read somewhere, an article that appealed to us, or some form of advertisement.

Deep down within us is the wish that everything should be explained to us so that we do not have to think for ourselves; only recall instructions, freeing us from the effort to find our own solutions. Whenever I give a presentation at work, I have always felt an urge to refer to  my notes. At times I put this aside, try and cut off my memory, and allow the words to flow spontaneously. In these short periods I have always felt uplifted, new meanings seem to descend from a higher level and the whole audience is transported to a different level of understanding. Memory is like old food from the refrigerator, whereas spontaneity is eating freshly picked fruit.

Can we learn to think in a new way where impulses open new pathways and passages in the brain? Our thinking center is full of borrowed opinions and ideas. We have nothing that we have thought for ourselves. We follow slogans, prejudices, catch phrases, even the last thing we read.

A technique we can use is to take one idea and open up as many shades of meaning possible. Say, I have a flat tire and am late for a meeting. Take this as opportunity to learn something from it. I could say this is a lesson in patience, or irritation. The meeting was important so I am teaching my nerves to hold tension in a relaxed manner. Experts call this the power to hold. This simple exercise would open up new roads in our brains, blood would start flowing through unused pathways, and our thinking and understanding would be lifted to a totally new dimension.

In our thinking we follow our inner hatreds, jealousies and obstinacies, along with our education and upbringing. If we worked to think in a new way, the world would be a different place.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Scientists say positive thinking does work

CYNICS may dismiss it as the kind of notion that appears in upbeat US self-help manuals.
But thinking positively about something really can make it happen, psychologists say. The effects are far more powerful than we realize - and can change our behavior and even how things turn out.

Just anticipating a specific outcome can gear our thoughts and actions towards turning it into reality, research in the journal Psychological Science suggests. For example, if someone shy expects a glass of wine will help them loosen up at a party, they will probably approach more people and get involved in more conversations over the course of the evening.

Although they may give credit to the wine, their expectations of how the wine would make them feel plays a major role, the experts say.

New Zealand psychologists Maryanne Garry and Robert Michael pooled their research into the effects of psychological suggestion with Irving Kirsch of Harvard. Many studies show it can influence how people perform in tasks, which products they prefer and even how they respond to medicines.

The authors said: 'Once we anticipate a specific outcome will occur, our subsequent thoughts and behaviors will actually help to bring that outcome to fruition.' Dr Garry added: 'If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people's lives.'

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Prepare for an Informational Interview

Informational Interview

The informational interview is a low-key, informational experience that may be a valuable tool when making decisions about your career. You accomplish several things when you go out on informational interviews:

  • Obtain information about your career field and the skills needed to do that job effectively;
  • Increase your visibility and make personal contact with agency personnel;
  • Gain insight into the hidden job market;
  • Become aware of the needs of the employers and the realities of employment; and
  • Gain invaluable interviewing experience.

In short it prepares you for what’s in store and allows you the opportunity to network with others in your field of interest.

In order to acquaint yourself with the interviewing process, talk with family, friends or anyone with whom you feel comfortable. Consider practicing to minimize the anxiety you may feel about interviewing.

Guidelines for Informational Interviews

Identify an occupation

Identify an occupation you would like to investigate. Find out as much information as you can about it before setting up an interview. This can be done through telephone, library, the Chamber of Commerce, the careers page at, or by word of mouth. Be sure the information you acquire is accurate.

Set up an informational interview prior to a job opening

It is usually a good idea to set up an informational interview with a resource person before there is an actual job opening in your area of interest. Managers and supervisors may feel uneasy or uncomfortable talking with a potential candidate when the agency is actively filling a position from an established candidate list.

Never ask for a job

The typical job searcher is going around asking for a job. In an informational interview, you should be asking questions to find out more about the job, the agency and how you may better prepare for openings. This will help set you apart from the many others who are asking for jobs and being turned down. Approach the unit or section of an agency with the attitude that you are seeking career advice.

Prepare your questions ahead of time

Ask questions that are appropriate and will provide you with important information. Convey your motivation and interest to the employer by acknowledging that the information they are giving you is important and that you put some thought into your questions.

Prepare answers to questions the manager or professional/technical person might ask of you during the interview.

To help you get your foot in the door, it will be helpful for you to have brainstormed some short, concise and informative answers to the following questions:

· Why are you interested in this type of work?

· Why do you feel you would be good at it?

· What interests you about this agency, department, division, unit or section?

· How would you quickly sum up your work history to make it fit with this agency?

· What do you truly want from this contact, and how will you use the information?

· In what stage are you with your career search?

Scheduling the informational interview

Contact the resource person, preferably by telephone, e-mail or letter. Try to schedule your interviews with managers and supervisors who have the authority to hire. Identify yourself and explain that you are researching careers in the contact’s field, and that you obtained their name from ____________________.

Persons who grant informational interviews are willing to share 20-30 minutes of their time to explain their field or experience. Be flexible in your scheduling, as these volunteer interviewees may have other commitments. If this should occur, ask a convenient time when you could call back to discuss scheduling an interview.

Although there are many techniques to setting up informational interviews, the following is a good approach.

  1. Hello, my name is ___________. I am conducting a career search in your occupational field. I would like to meet with you for 20-30 minutes, so that I can find out more about your field of expertise.
  2. Use your own creativity, but the most important thing is to emphasize that you are simply trying to get first-hand information, and would appreciate whatever time they could share with you.

If you prefer to arrange an appointment in person and cannot get past the front desk, treat receptionists as resources. They hold the key to getting inside the unit or section of that agency if you do not already have an inside contact or referral. Ask them some of your questions. You will usually get good information. Receptionists and other support staff often know a great deal about their agency or firm. They know how it works, the names of key people, job requirements, etc. It is important that they understand what you want. If you ask them something that they feel could be more fully answered by someone else, they will usually give you a referral.

Dress appropriately

Because a large percentage of openings are never advertised, you may uncover job opportunities that never make it to the newspaper or employment office. Be prepared to make a good impression and to be remembered favorably by the employer. Looking for a job means that you should always look your best in appearance and otherwise.

Come prepared to take notes

Pretend you are a reporter. You don’t need to write everything down, but there may be names, phone numbers or other information that you do want to remember.

Be enthusiastic and show interest. Use an informal dialogue during the interview. Be direct and concise with your questions and answers. Do not ramble. Have good eye contact and posture. Be positive with your remarks, and reflect a good sense of humor.

Bring your resume

Bring a copy of your resume. Try to find out about specific characteristics or qualifications that employers seek when hiring. You may ask the person you are interviewing to critique your resume. Ask if you may follow-up in two or three weeks.

Before the interview

The day before the interview, call to confirm your appointment with the contact person. If you have questions regarding the office location and direction, this is the time to ask. Plan to arrive 10 minutes early for your interview. Carry a small notebook and pen.

The interview

You have arrived and been greeted by the individual at the front desk. When the contact comes out to meet you, introduce yourself. Thank your contact for his or her willingness to meet with you and re-emphasize that you are there to learn and gather information about his or her career field. Use an informal dialogue during the interview.

The following are typical informational interview questions (please see last page, as well):

  1. What is your job like?

· How would you describe a typical day?

· What do you do?

· What kinds of problems do you deal with?

· What kinds of decisions do you make?

  1. What jobs and experience have led to your present employment?
  2. What are the greatest personal satisfactions and disappointments connected with your occupation?
  3. What professional obligations go along with your occupation?

· Are there organizations you are expected to join?

· Are there expectations outside work hours?

  1. What things did you do before entering this occupation?

· Which have been most helpful?

· What other jobs can you get with the same background?

  1. What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation/industry?
  2. How does a person progress in your field?

· What is the best way to enter this occupation?

· What are the advancement opportunities?

· What are the key qualifications for success in this particular occupation?

  1. Can you tell me about others you know who do similar kinds of work or who use similar skills?
  2. What can you tell me about the employment outlook in your occupational field?

People are often happy to discuss their positions and willing to provide you with a wealth of information. Try to keep the conversation friendly, but brief and focused on the contract person’s job.

Share some information about yourself

Do not dominate the interview by talking about yourself. You are there to get information that will help you learn about the agency and the position, so you can be adequately prepared to compete for the job. Be aware, however, that many informational interviews have turned into actual employment interviews. If it seems that you are being interviewed for a specific job, ask so you can make sure you emphasize your talents and skills, and why you feel they relate to the job.

Be a good listener

Listening is an important component of effective communication. In addition to being able to ask questions and convey a message to employers, you need to develop the skill of really listening to what they tell you. Be receptive and paraphrase or restate information to show that you understand the key points.

Ask if you may stay in contact

You have spent 20-30 minutes with this person, asking questions, getting advice and sharing a little about yourself. Thus begins your contact network. They have taken time to share with you; in other words, they have invested time in you. Most people like their investment to pay off. The person you have just talked with wants you to find a job. Most people will feel good about your staying in contact with them. You do not have to call or write them every week. Just keep them posted on your research. They may not have a job for you, but they may know of other agencies or people to whom you may be referred. Ask for your contact’s business card and exchange one of your own, if you have one. Ask if you may leave a resume.

Always send a thank you note

Be sure to send a thank you note or letter within three days of the interview. This is an effective way to keep in touch, as well as to be remembered by people. Let them know they were helpful and thank them for their time. As a nice touch, quote something that the resource person said to you, word for word. Ask them to keep you in mind if they come across any other information that may be helpful to you in your career search. Include your address and phone number under your signature.

Make a Reference List

Keep a list of all the people you have interviewed or plan to interview for future reference. Keep a special notebook or cards with interview notes on your questions covered. Include the main things that you gained from each interview. This file will be a rich source of information as you conduct your occupational exploration.

Always get referrals

People who are in the same kinds of business usually know their competition. As if they could give you the names of others to talk to and if you may say that they referred you. Referrals open doors!

Capturing that dream

You have just taken the first important step in developing your career search strategy. You have shared information about yourself and gained a wealth of information from an individual who is employed in a career in which you are interested. You have built trust with someone in the field and taken responsibility for getting yourself a position that you will enjoy. You have also begun developing a network of potential employers. Although you are not asking for a job, there individuals are now aware of your interests.

Remember no to become discouraged. Establishing this network is vital if you are serious about making a new career change and finding the “good jobs.”

When the day of your “real” job interview arrives, the interviewing panel could contain someone with who conducted an informational interview. Chances are that you will stand out in his or her mind when the selection is made. You have developed the necessary confidence and expertise to make your dream job a reality.

Research questions to explore a job:

· What is your job like?

· What do you like best about your job?

· What kinds of problems do you deal with?

· What kinds of decisions do you make?

· What skills, abilities, aptitudes and/or temperaments are needed?

· How do people get most of their training?

· Does the work serve values which are important to you?

· What are the greatest personal satisfactions and disappointments connected with this occupation?

· What is the outlook for this type of work?

· How do you see your job changing over the next several years?

· Do you have any tips on how to get such a job?

Research questions to learn about a person:

· What jobs and educational experiences have led to your present job?

· Why did you choose the type of work you are doing?

· What has been your favorite job?

· What has given you your biggest sense of accomplishment?

· Do you have any tips for building a successful career?

· What type(s) of job(s) have you thought about doing next?

Research questions to learn about an agency:

· What are your major products or services?

· What type of jobs do you have here?

· What type of people are you looking for?

· What entry-level jobs exist?

· Do you provide training?

· What are the advancement opportunities?

· What is the approximate salary range?

· What is the benefit package?

· What is the long-and short-range outlook for the organization?

· What are the most important immediate and future concerns for the organization?

· What are the agency’s goals and objectives over the next six months? The next year? Two years?

· If you were hiring someone today, for what position would you hire?

· What is the hire procedure?

· Do you have any literature on the agency?

· How did most people here get their jobs?

· What kind of person do you have to be to fit in with the agency?