The paradox of the comfort of crowds by Scott Woodard – May 19, 2015

Stand out from the crowdAn interesting dynamic often occurs with new clients. They may sign on, initially because their current job search isn’t working. They have a traditional resume, one that lists, in chronological order, the responsibilities of the positions they’ve held over the years. They may have posted this resume on job boards and used it in applying for positions of interest they’ve come across on the boards or company websites. They’ve waited for someone to contact them. And they’ve waited some more.

Naturally, they get discouraged. They reach out to us. They want help; they can’t do this on their own. We show them something different: A framework where they differentiate themselves from everyone else. We help them write a new resume, one that emphasizes their accomplishments over their responsibilities. We coach them how to articulate their value verbally, virtually and in writing. We help them build their brand. We coach them on how to network effectively, hold strategic conversations with key people in their field and create relationships with decision makers.

They get very excited. This is different. It will work. After all, the process they’ve been following hasn’t produced results; it’s been a black hole.

So, they begin anew with great energy. They have a brand new resume that shows how their brand works; and a LinkedIn profile that reflects their brand. This is really different. They’re really going to stand out.

They reach out to people on LinkedIn; they join Groups; they follow companies. They post their new resume on the job boards, replacing their old one. They send it in when they apply to positions posted on company websites. They wait for someone to contact them.

Recruiters who tell them that they need a resume that shows their responsibilities from every company they ever worked for, in chronological order may contact them. They come back as ask for a new resume that looks much like their old one. They’re concerned that they don’t look like everyone else.

I had a recent conversation with a recruiter. I asked her how she saw the year shaping up for new hiring. Her response was that it would be a great year for people who can articulate and demonstrate their value to prospective employers. Those who rely solely on skill sets, not so much. The interesting thing is, with published positions — those posted online, either on job boards or company websites — skills are how HR people determine candidates’ qualifications. Decision makers, on the other hand, focus more on value.

If you’re in a job search and you’re relying solely on your skills you blend in with the crowd. Like the gunslingers of the Old West, there will always be someone younger, faster and cheaper. It may feel safe in the crowd, but you don’t get noticed.

Value isn’t necessarily related to tenure or budgets. Value relates to accomplishments rather than responsibilities. It appeals to the people who care; the people who make the decision whether to hire or not. Skills may get you in the door for an interview, but it’s your value that will get you hired.

Value stands out; it’s what makes you unique; it becomes your brand. Skills are necessary, but not sufficient. They don’t trump value.

So over to you…do you feel safe by running with the crowd, by blending in with everyone else? Are you indistinguishable from others? Or do you take the risk and stand out? Can you articulate and demonstrate your value? Can you stand out from the crowd?


When it’s time to choose a career counselor by Barbara Babkirk – May 11, 2015

Infinity Time SpiralFew would argue that there are times when it’s best to seek out a specialist concerning certain medical conditions. The same can be true when your career needs a check up or a serious intervention.

In order to make a wise choice for your career, it’s important to know what to consider in selecting a professional to help:


  1. What exactly is career counseling?
  2. How do you go about choosing a professional?
  3. What might you expect?

Career counseling is a well-established profession with its origins dating back to the industrial revolution when jobs on farms were shrinking and new technologies were increasing. The demand for workers was an incentive for veterans returning from WWI. But, they needed guidance from career counselors to help them understand the marketplace, find training and secure jobs.

Credentials for career counselors may vary from state to state. In Maine, a license is not necessary to practice, although a counseling degree is one indication of a professional’s level of expertise. Certain types of education, training and experience can differentiate an effective career counselor from one who lacks the background to assist in all phases of the career planning process. The National Career Development Association lists career counselors in each state who have met the standards of the profession.

If you are considering a career counselor, determine if she or he meets most of the following criteria:

  • Earned graduate degree in Counseling or Career Development
  • A record of success helping individuals reach their career goals
  • Ability to guide you through a process of determining what you want to do next (if you are not certain you want to continue in your field)
  • Expert knowledge of the job search process and the most effective steps for securing employment (including the most up to date ways of using social media)
  • Current knowledge of the local and national marketplace, including where to obtain salary information

Here are examples of situations that might warrant seeing a career counselor:

  • Bored with your career of 15 years and lack motivation to go to work
  • Out of the work force to raise your family or care for a family member and you’re unclear about your marketable skills.
  • Want to raise the bar on your career and need a strategy to do this effectively
  • Have lost your job due to restructuring and want to reassess your career direction
  • Have just graduated from college and need help launching a career
  • Want to be ready for the next professional opportunity and need a new resume, Linkedin profile and a clear way of communicating your value
  • Anticipate retiring in 3-5 years and want to begin to think about your life and work in this phase of life

How a career counselor might help with those situations:

  • Assess what is influencing the desired work-related change: How is your particular life stage influencing your interest in new work?
  • Identify current needs: You may benefit from assessments or focused questions to help you understand their personality, life priorities and marketable skills. You are likely to need help determining appropriate options in the marketplace that align with your criteria.
  • Determine a course of action: Establishing a strategy for success might range from steps to better understand the marketplace and where your skills match with opportunities, to creating an impressive resume, Linkedin profile, and statement of professional value as well as interview coaching.

Career counselors typically meet with clients in person. They may charge an hourly fee for each session depending on your needs; or they may ask you to commit to a group of sessions right from the start. I would advise you to call and speak briefly with a career counselor to consider their approach, education and experience and determine how well they listen to your situation, as you make your decision.

Trust your intuition as well as the specific information you receive. Choose wisely, since this relationship could impact the rest of your life.


Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral? by Scott Woodard – April 20, 2015

Clients often express frustration that they’re not finding meaning in their work. They may have at one time, but no longer. They may feel they have plateaued in their current role and there’s no place for them to go. They may have mastered their work and are no longer challenged. Their workplace may be disruptive or toxic and they have no power to change the environment. Work, for them, in a word…well it’s not good.

They come looking for help in finding their new work. Work that is meaningful, challenging, exciting, collaborative. However, when asked to define what that work might look like, many are at a loss. They have no idea other than it is not what they’re doing now.

So, we’ll do some exercises to help them focus on purpose and clarity — what drives them and what they’re good at doing. We may have them take the StrengthsFinder assessment. We may have them write an essay that describes their ideal work day — from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.

For many, these exercises provide focus and help define what they want to do going forward. Others, however, find these tasks difficult. They struggle with how their StrengthsFinder themes help; they can’t define their ideal work day. They just know that they don’t want to continue what they’re doing.

Not to diminish their frustration with their current situation, these folks may need a reframe. I’m reminded of the story of a traveller who came upon three brick masons busy at their craft. He asked the first one, “what are you doing?” The mason looked up with a scowl and responded, “I’m laying bricks, what’s it look like? Now don’t bother me, I’ve got another hour before my shift ends.” The traveller went up to the second mason and asked the same question. “I’m helping build this wall, and we’re in a hurry; we need to lay another full row before end of shift.” The third brick mason got the same question from the traveller: “What are you doing?” He looked up at the traveller and responded, “I’m building a cathedral.”

A recent conversation with my son brought this home. He is in his first professional job at a national foundation that supports the educational advancement of promising students in financial need. When he was first hired, he was excited about the opportunity, believing strongly in the mission of the foundation. Almost a year in to his job, he’s discouraged that all he seems to do is manage budgets and manipulate spreadsheets. Trouble is, he’s not sure what he wants to do next.

Then he told a story of how he helped one of their students obtain internet service at her home. The student’s parents couldn’t afford cable in their inner city apartment. The foundation agreed to pay for the service so the student could access the internet for her studies. My son negotiated with the internet service provider to install service. It took nine months. Knowing that service would be paid by the foundation, the provider was willing to install the necessary cable and modem…between 1 and 3 PM…on a weekday. An adult would need to be present to sign for the installation. The major problem was that both parents worked at low wage jobs and could not afford to take time off to be available for the installation. My 23 year old son — the budget manager and spreadsheet manipulator — negotiated with the global internet service provider to install the necessary equipment. It took him nine months, but he was successful and the bright, young student now has access to internet to supplement her schooling.

I’d say he did more than just lay bricks.

Over to you. When you’re frustrated with your job, do you see yourself just laying bricks? Can you reframe and refocus your thoughts and your activities so that you’re building a cathedral? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What anchors you in transitions? by Barbara Babkirk – April 27, 2015

Child Walking In Woods To Glowing Red DoorTransitions by their very nature make you feel less secure. But even in the midst of a transition that has you feeling lost and afloat in a sea of unknown outcomes, you can regain your bearings and get grounded.

Constantly focusing on what is unclear or confusing in your life, can make you feel frustrated and anxious. While it is common to try to imagine answers to “what’s coming next”, it can be counterproductive to dwell on what you can not control or figure out immediately. The following line from a poem by the German poet, Rilke tells you why:

“…Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given to you, because you would not be able to live them.

Instead of churning on the unknown, consider the exercise of focusing your attention on those aspects of your life about which you are certain and clear—your “life anchors”.

Your anchors can be as concrete as naming the people whom you love and who support you, where you want to live, and the specific job you seek, or as abstract as “I want to wake up looking forward to work.” From this exercise, create a list of your anchors and let it be a work in progress, writing additions as they occur to you throughout the day.

Taking this exercise a step further, begin to integrate your awareness of your anchors into your daily routine.

As you awake on any given day and before you rise from bed, remind yourself of what you are certain in your life. Accept your response, whether simple or detailed, without judgment. As you rise and your feet touch the floor, breathe deeply several times in recognition of these certainties. Your anchors will have a grounding effect on your life as you reflect on what is true and real, especially when you lack clarity about other things.

In doing this, you’ll be aligned with Rilke’s guidance as you honor the flow of your life’s path:

“…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.” – Rilke




When you’re having a bad day, keep this in mind – by Barbara Babkirk – April 13, 2015

Hot pink rose copyWhether you have recently lost your job, feel discouraged by the lack of developments in your job search or you’re just having a bad day, you may need something else to focus on instead of your bad luck or troubling circumstances.

In his book, Beauty, Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue explains the essential place beauty occupies in our lives.

O’Donohue, in a voice that is confident and inviting, states that beauty “stirs passion and urgency in us”, and “awakens the heart.”

When you feel down or even a bit hopeless, your heart may close as a way of protecting you. In this mode, you’re not available to opportunities that have the potential to shift your mood or circumstance.

What if you were to embrace the notion that noticing beauty in your life had the potential to transform your day or a difficult moment? How might that shift your attention?

Think simple or extravagant, go on a hunt or turn your head to notice the beauty that’s around you. See what new perspective this might stir in you.

“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.” – Blaise Pascal

The real power of Linkedin by Scott Woodard – April 6, 2015

linkedinOne of the first things we’ll ask our clients is if they are on LinkedIn or not. We’ll usually get one of three responses:

  1. “Yes, but just barely. I don’t have much of a profile;” or
  2. “No, I have never seen the need;” or
  3. “Yes I am! I have several hundred connections!”

To responses 1 and 2, we explain why LinkedIn is such an important tool for their career, and why a strong profile is so important.

To response 3 we say “That’s great! How are you using it?”

“Well,” they might say, “I connect with a lot of people.”

“Terrific,” we’ll reply, “but how are you using LinkedIn? How are you making those connections work for you?”

We believe so strongly in LinkedIn as a way to manage your career that we hold workshops twice a month so that our clients can learn how to make LinkedIn work for them. We teach them the real power of LinkedIn.

You probably know that LinkedIn is the professional network; that you can find people of interest, organizations of interest and jobs. You may know that over 90% of recruiters — both retained recruiters and in-house, corporate recruiters — use LinkedIn to search for the talent their company is seeking. So it’s important to have a strong and complete profile on LinkedIn.

However, you may not know that just having a profile on LinkedIn is only part of the issue. The real power of LinkedIn is in leveraging the network you build.

Those connections you have in your network — whether it’s a few dozen or several hundred — link you to many, many other people who can help you gain entree to organizations of interest to you. It’s the connections of your connections that provides power.

Let’s say for example, that you’re interested in working for Acme Technologies, a growing tech firm, as a software developer. You discover that the Vice President of Product Development is on LinkedIn. In fact, she is a 2nd level connection to you. That means, that you and the VP share a connection — a 1st level, or direct, connection to both of you.

You can now reach out (preferably by phone) to the mutual connection and ask for an introduction to the VP of Acme who is more likely to want to talk with you if someone she knows has referred you…People hire people they know, or people they know know.

You should never have to make a cold call again. Get someone you know to reach out on your behalf to someone you are both connected to.

So, how about you? How are you using LinkedIn? Are you making your connections work for you?


Do you negotiate a job offer? by Barbara Babkirk – March 31, 2015

Woman handshakeAre you among the 49% of Americans who never ask for more than what is offered, despite the fact that 45% of employers fully expect to negotiate a job offer? (By the way, more women than men accept what’s initially offered without any negotiation.)

Compensation has been a lively topic of conversation with clients recently—some of whom have received multiple job offers. That’s a good sign for the Maine economy, as well as a statement about how well prepared our clients are for the marketplace.

We often encourage our clients to negotiate an offer and request additional compensation and/or benefits. This is always based on two factors: the value they bring to the organization and what the marketplace is paying for similar positions.

When done well, the negotiation results in a win-win for the candidate and the employer.

Take Janice for example–a Pharmacist with a recent Doctoral degree and considerable experience. Her colleague encouraged her to apply for a position at a progressive pharmacy that stressed consultative services to customers—right in line with her preference and skill set. But, the new salary offer came in lower than what she had been earning, and she was told that the base salary was the maximum for this position.

After communicating the value she would bring to this new position and her disappointment with the compensation, Janice was offered a generous sign-on bonus and an increase in her bonus structure over time. Janice accepted and the company was thrilled to have her join the team.

Research shows that if you feel in control of your life and believe you can make things happen, (as opposed to believing that others control your circumstances) you are more likely to ask for what you want, and, therefore, influence the outcome.

However, if you believe your fate is in someone else’s hands, you may not even imagine there are options other than those presented to you.

Follow these tips and negotiate the compensation you deserve:

1: Think about what you really want and the value you’ll deliver, not just what you assume is possible.

2: Articulate your professional value as a rationale for your request.

3:   Know what the marketplace pays for your position by doing research online and locally (,, as further justification for any increase.

4:   Request a meeting to review your job offer. Express appreciation for and interest in the offer before you present your counter-offer. Keep in mind that vacation time, a flexible work schedule, additional time without pay, and other benefits, can all be part of your final negotiation.





Networking made easy by Scott Woodard – March 23, 2015

NetworkingWhen people are asked about the hardest part of the job search process, most say, without hesitation, “networking.”

We know that we need to connect with others in the job search. We’ve heard that “people hire people they know, or people they know know — referrals.” Yet we break out in a sweat when we think of reaching out to people we don’t know and ask them for help.

Networking just seems such a huge barrier to success. We can’t imagine going to networking events, meeting strangers and asking them for help in our search. We’d rather stick pins in our eyes.

That’s why Heart At Work Associates created Networking Made Easy for our clients and their guests. Each month, we host an invitation only event in our office and facilitate connections among the participants. At our last event, the 10 participants shared over 50 connections and offers for introductions. The energy in the room was electric, and it wasn’t fueled by the homemade chocolate chip cookies we provided.

My colleagues — Barbara Babkirk and Amy Jaffe — and I facilitated the event. We talked briefly about the importance of a statement of professional value that you can articulate verbally, virtually and in writing. We gave everyone time to draft their initial statement, focusing on their current situation, what they brought in terms of skills and value, and what they were looking for. We worked with participants to help them craft their statements; and we had everyone write their name and contact information on six index cards.

Amy then led the group in an exercise where each participant introduced themselves and presented their statement. Some of us asked a few clarifying questions, then if we had a lead, we wrote it on one of the index cards and gave it to the presenter. After everyone had presented their statement and collected their cards, they had the opportunity to talk with the participants who had provided the information. A number of folks collected several cards with several names as potential leads. And often, they had the commitment of an introduction from the source of the lead.

The final part of the evening stressed follow through and accountability. Once again, we went around the room and each participant stated specific actions they would take in the next week with the information they received that evening.

At the end of the evening, people were excited to get started. In a supported, dynamic, two hour session they met people just like them; they were able to provide leads for their new contacts; receive leads themselves; and have an action plan to take advantage of those leads.

Networking doesn’t get much easier. And there were cookies.



The right way to network by Barbara Babkirk & Scott Woodard – March 21, 2015

bigstock-Social-Collaboration-73758367“Networking”—it’s an overused and widely misunderstood “must do” job search strategy these days.

Anyone who is looking for a job has probably heard that most open positions are not advertised in traditional ways and the key to any successful job search is “networking”. After all, we’re told, “people hire people they know, or people who are referred to them by people they know.” So networking carries a lot of weight in today’s job search strategies.

But, what does that really mean? I’ll bet that everyone has their own assumptions about it, but I’m also sure that most versions come up short in their ultimate impact and effectiveness. At Heart At Work Associates, we encourage our clients to “network” in the best way that suits their personalities. We do stress that networking is a process, not an event; and that there are some critical factors you must follow however you decide to network.

First you must build relationships. Relationships need to be reciprocal. That is, you need to be prepared to give as well as take. In fact, giving assistance is more important than receiving it. Be prepared to help new people you meet in your networking, rather than ask for help from the start.

Second, relationships need to be nurtured. That means that you don’t just connect with someone new, obtain their business card, and move on. You need to engage them and follow up. Check in with your new contact on a regular basis. Send out an personal email once a quarter or so, checking in on their progress and offer any help you can provide.

Third, don’t just “network” when you need a job or when you need help from your contacts. If you do, your effort will be viewed as entirely one-sided.

In the “what not to do when you’re networking” category, I’ll recount a recent experience at a professional gathering.

The first person I met was a young woman who introduced herself as a life coach (but it could have been any occupation). When I asked her to explain (hoping for a description of her target client or how she approached her work), her response was a rote sounding “elevator speech”. Her lack of strategy was evident when she didn’t even ask about my work!

I came away from the one-way interaction unclear about what she actually offered and was turned off by her lack of spontaneity and interest in me.

Whether the person across from you is a stranger or a longtime colleague, effective networking involves a two-way conversation. When done well, networking blends attentive listening with appropriate questions.

When you make the conversation more about the other person than about you, you’re more apt to engage the person you’ve just met.

We’ve all been “taken hostage” by someone who drones on about himself or laments about the difficult time they’re having finding a job. Don’t follow their example.

Be aware of what you’re doing and saying and notice the body language of the person with whom you’re speaking. You’ll see if you are boring them and if so, move on or shift the topic back to them.

Be strategic when you network! Think about the particular networking opportunity beforehand—imagine why others are attending and create relevant questions that will engage people in a conversation.

Meaningful connections are memorable in a positive way—just the impression you want to cultivate in your job search.

Do you think it’s too late to…? by Barbara Babkirk – March 17, 2015

Open Your Mind Torn PaperHave you imagined things you would like to do in your life and then talk yourself out of them because you think it’s too late or you’re too old? Perhaps you might want to reconsider.

It’s common for people to dismiss satisfying ideas and interesting options because of inaccurate or unfounded assumptions.

When my clients express resignation or regret about something they think they cannot do because of their age, I often challenge them by asking: What if your age was not a factor? How would you feel about the idea then? Would you be motivated to take a step closer to it?

Eliminating what appears to be a hurdle can allow you to zero in on the real issue, which might be fear of failure, fear of the unknown, or even fear of success!

Whether you are a 30 year old contemplating graduate school, or a 58 year old fantasizing a totally new career, it is important to get close enough to the idea to figure out whether or not it reflects what you truly desire as well as what is truly necessary to make it a reality. In other words, initially focus on the “what” of it, not the “how”.

Perceived hurdles often occur when a person is not clear about what they want.

For example, age is often a handy excuse not to take the risk. But, the “safe” path can come with a sense of regret.

Review your dreams and reconsider your assumptions. Perhaps a new path might emerge that you thought impossible.

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Isaac Asimov

Heart At Work Associates offers career counseling and outplacement services for your life stage in Portland, Maine and globally.

career counseling • outplacement & career transition services • relocation services • retention programs