What’s your purpose? by Barbara Babkirk – February 22, 2016

Bee on flowerResearch shows that it increases with age—your desire for a sense of purpose, that is.

I see this desire unfolding with my boomer clients who, after 25+ years in a particular profession, want to explore a different path—one with a focus on making a contribution to their community, whether local or global, paid or unpaid.

They seek my help with defining what they have to offer and identifying a meaningful match in the world.

It’s often a particular cause that anchors their quest—something to which they devoted time as a volunteer, one that touched their lives or a loved one’s in a significant way, or even an inexplicable curiosity that persisted through the years.

Take Janice for example. After 28 years in the insurance industry, she longed for an adventure that would take her far from her native New England. But what would she do and how could she make it happen?

I encouraged her to focus on “what”, rather than “how” since the latter often derails a quest if considered too early in the discovery process.

Janice had a longstanding curiosity with orphanages. Her interest seemed out of the blue since she was not an orphan, nor did she know any children who had lost both parents. Yet, she literally had reoccurring dreams of visiting orphanages in some remote part of the world.

Janice decided to finally give this interest some attention. The more she explored, the more she was drawn into the world of foreign orphanages. Eventually, she settled on one in Southeast Asia that accepted volunteers and she made a plan to pursue her calling.

Of course, not all quests for purpose take people to far ends of the Earth.

What’s important is to know that your “purpose quest” is both an inner discovery that addresses the question “What do I have/want to offer?” and an outer exploration that results in an opportunity that meets a need and adds meaning to your life.







How to maximize outplacement services during a layoff by Barbara Babkirk – February 8, 2016

Ancient fortifications of TuscanyLayoffs peaked in our country in 2009, but employers continue to use layoffs to address a negative bottom line, cut costs by outsourcing services, or restructure departments or services based on the changing marketplace.

When a layoff is necessary, whether it involves one person or many, employers may offer outplacement services outsourced to professionals skilled in career transitions to help those who have lost their jobs transition to new ones. While employers are under no legal obligation to offer this assistance, many see it as an ethical decision. It’s estimated that 70% of employers offer outplacement services.

Outplacement services not only help the employee set a positive focus and establish a new career direction after a difficult departure, but they have also been proven to shift a negative backlash or mitigate the risk of a lawsuit.

Requests for outplacement services from Heart At Work Associates have increased dramatically in the past three years. You might think that this is a negative sign for Maine’s workforce, but actually, Maine’s unemployment rate is low at 4.7% and with our rapidly aging population, employers are facing a talent shortage in the years ahead.

Thankfully, best practices in outplacement services have evolved and become more compassionate and effective than in years past. They no longer involve rows of temporary offices where laid off workers somberly conduct job searches under the guidance of job coaches, or worse yet, feature professionals who travel the country callously firing people from firm to firm, as portrayed by George Clooney in the popular movie “Up in the Air”.

In order for outplacement services (OP) to serve their intended purpose to expedite a successful transition for employees leaving the organization, employers are encouraged to incorporate current best practices in OP that we’ve found to be beneficial for all:

  1. Involve the OP professionals in conversations with senior leadership early on in the process of planning the layoff. Often we hear from clients that they felt the leadership was out of touch with how the layoff was executed—and in some cases, this is accurate. Avoid contacting the OP provider at the “last minute” before the layoff is announced. It’s difficult to plan a meaningful program that meets everyone’s needs under a time pressure.
  2. Encourage awareness of and participation in OP services by inviting the OP professionals to be on site the day of the layoff announcement. While it is true that people who have just lost their jobs may not have the capacity to take in much information, they would benefit, nonetheless, from meeting their OP providers in person for reassurance.
  3. Consider a range of OP services from group workshops to individual career counseling sessions. It can be cost effective if the layoff involves several people, to include small group interactive workshops on key job search strategies as part of the offering.
  4. Carefully consider how OP services are explained to employees. Only 40% of people offered OP actually take advantage of it. This is because they either don’t understand the service or its benefits, are not encouraged by their employer to participate, or they do not receive any follow up communication from the OP provider and lose interest.
  5. Clearly identify and communicate verbally and in writing the specifics (how and by what date to make contact) and the benefits of the outplacement services offered. Include a personalized letter from the OP provider.
  6. Stay current with your OP providers and ask about their new offerings as well as who on the team actually provides the services. Just as you bring innovation and best practices to your organization, OP providers should be keeping up with marketplace changes and adding value to the OP services they offer.

How to maximize your job search success during the holidays by Barbara Babkirk – November 30, 2015

Businessman Wearing Santa Hat Using ComputerConventional wisdom may tell you to put your job search on hold until the New Year once the Holiday season hits, but the team at Heart At Work Associates disagrees.

Think about all the people you see only once a year at Holiday events, plus the new people you might meet. You never know how one of these chance meetings might benefit you.

But, if you cringe at the thought of people asking what you’re up to, or worse still, what you want to do, you are likely to avoid these opportunities that have the potential to move your job search forward.

Forget the pressure of having to identify a job title or even a career direction. Instead, be prepared for the inevitable question, by stating your current status (in transition, job was just eliminated…) quickly followed by “and I’m looking for my next challenge where I can use my skills in …Is there anyone you know with whom I should meet?”

If you are prepared with this type of response, you’ll be set to welcome informal conversations and offers of help at event where friends and colleagues gather.

If someone suggests a contact and says, “use my name”, know that this approach rarely works. You’ll need to respond with “Thanks! Would you please make an email introduction for me and I’ll take it from there?” Then you can be certain that the email will not end up in spam or the trash since it came from someone the recipient knows.

The six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years can be a particularly effective time to expand your network. With many professionals curtailing work travel schedules to make themselves available for end-of-the-year planning and office events, you may have easier access to decision makers at this time.

While some organizations have exhausted budgets by year-end, this is not always the case. Be open to the possibility that a new hire would help spend down a budget or assist hiring managers get a jump-start on goals for the new fiscal year.

With an attitude of “anything is possible”, and a challenge to your assumptions about this time of year, you may find yourself in a prime position of opportunity that could lead to a new job to celebrate the season.


How to keep your skills sharp when you’re unemployed by Barbara Babkirk – November 9, 2015

imagesThe national average for landing a new job is about eight months. How do you keep your momentum going and your skills fresh during this time of transition?

The first step is to identify the skills that are currently in demand for your target job(s) and determine the best way to build on or refine the competencies you already have. Don’t rely on your assumptions about what is required—find out the facts from those who are hiring.

Beyond the options of enrolling in classes at a local adult education program or university, there are other ways to stay on top of your game. Here are some examples:

  • Enroll in a certificate-yielding program in a university or college’s continuing education program
  • Explore seminars and workshops offered by your professional association, (they may offer a reduced rate or waive the registration fee altogether for unemployed individuals).
  • Hire a tutor to help you refine your second language skills or learn the in-demand software to update your computer skills.
  • Check out the local Career Center to determine what relevant workshops they offer.
  • Determine if you are eligible for “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act” (WIOA) funding for skills training through the Career Center for laid off workers
  • Regularly review events calendars for the Chambers of Commerce and local community organizations to see what they might be featuring for training.

Stay in touch with professionals in the fields you have targeted. They are the best source of current and accurate information about the skills and competencies needed to get the job done and, therefore, which ones to focus on in networking and during a job interview.




What do you do? by Scott Woodard – October 23, 2015

valuepropWhat do you do?

 How do you answer this question? Do you provide your job title or occupation: Car sales, plumber, housewife, career coach? Or do you respond with WHAT YOU DO? Do you give what you do meaning and value?

 I can’t recall where I read this, but it had an impact on me. In essence, the idea was to give meaning to our work rather than respond with a job title. In this way we show the value of our work.

 Instead of responding with an occupation: Car salesman, plumber, housewife or career coach; respond with meaning.

 “I facilitate the process, from selection to acquisition, of customers choosing an automobile that best fits their transportation needs” … or …

 ” I keep people above water” … or …

 “I make sure that the most important people in my life get out the door every morning with what they need to be successful in that day” … or …

 “I help people figure out what they want to do next in their lives and how they can achieve their goals.”

 Can you give what you do meaning? Can you see that by making what you do meaningful you provide value?

 So, over to you. What do YOU do?

Over 50, looking for a job, and concerned about your age? Don’t be. by Barbara Babkirk – October 11, 2015

Ageism Gets OldMy career counseling specialty is the boomer demographic and most of my clients have two things in common: they have worked for decades in a primary career and they are afraid that their age will hinder their search for new work.

My job is to help them get to the heart of the matter: identify what they want to do, what they have to offer and how to land a job. In order to begin that work, I often have to give them a reality check about their fears.

So I ask: Have you heard that 30% of Maine’s population is between 50 and 70 and that a third of that group is poised to retire?

The “older boomers” nearing 70, will create a significant gap in the marketplace as they officially disengage from paid work. It’s clear that employers will need to think creatively and inclusively about how to fill positions and get the jobs done. It will be the naïve hiring manager who lets age discrimination get in the way of a good hire.

So, avoid second-guessing any prospective employer about how they’ll view your age, and focus on what’s sure to be an asset: your cadre of pertinent skills, experience, and relevant education and training.

The initial way to present this information is via Linked in and a professional résumé. As you put your best foot forward virtually and in writing, avoid any indicators that will hint that you are not current in your skills or knowledge of the marketplace.

Here are tips for conveying your knowledge about current best practices in the job search:

  • More than 90% of people seeking to hire use Linkedin as a key resource to identify talent. Create a winning Linkedin profile that includes a summary “story” about your background and skills. Be sure to customize and include your LinkedIn URL on your resume. (We have a LinkedIn specialist on our team who offers LI workshops three times a month.)
  • Avoid unnecessary, extraneous information on your resume like “references furnished upon request”, personal data such as “married, 2 kids” or a list of your hobbies.
  • Include only the years of past employment and not the months that detract from more important information.
  • Provide concise information about your experience; show results whenever possible and use strong and descriptive verbs to delineate your experience.
  • Avoid including the year you graduated from college or graduate school. Keep them guessing about your exact age.

With a pro-active approach and positive mindset, you will shift from fears about your age to focus on finding a great match between your skills and job target and marketplace options.

Find the pause button and get the clarity you need by Barbara Babkirk – September 29, 2015


I recently saw a client I’ll call Anne, who was stressed from overworking—a very common issue these days. She had made the decision to quit her job within a year and wanted to discuss options that would allow for better balance in her life in her next position.

After exploring the issue more in depth, it became clear that Anne was not really in a place to imagine possibilities. She was depleted and not feeling very expansive in her thinking. Anne admitted that the options that came to mind would put her back in the same pattern of overwork.

While her job was hard to manage, she had developed a pattern of saying yes to practically any request that came her way, causing her to feel resentful and tired.

In spite of having accumulated several weeks of vacation, Anne’s work had taken over her life and she had not even thought about time to renew and regroup.

Rather than explore her next work options, we discussed taking time—three consecutive weeks in fact, to renew her spirit and get some much needed R&R.

The other strategy we discussed had to do with how she responded to requests. Her habit of saying yes came from a place of wanting to be of service and needed, but was getting in the way of her experiencing down time or evaluating the way she was spending her time at work.

Anne agreed to experiment with “finding a pause button”. When a request came in, she would, whenever possible, get the information she needed and tell the person she’d get back to them the following day. She would sleep on it and “be with” the request. She would allow some feedback to bubble up from the inside out and let that influence her ultimate decision of how to respond.

I’m confident that shifting the “yes” pattern and taking time to rest and renew will both support Anne’s desire to find new work and a different way of working.





Accelerate your job search by Scott Woodard – September 22, 2015

Job-SearchYou’re looking for a new job and you haven’t been as successful as you would like. That is, you haven’t been hired, in spite of all the effort you’ve put in.

The fact is, looking for a new job is hard and stressful, even if you’re not changing careers. And, it’s a lot harder than it used to be: There are hundreds of applicants for each position advertised. Applicant Tracking Software systems are used to screen for keywords and sift through those hundreds of resumes, before a human being sees your document. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, you may not get noticed because your resume didn’t have the correct keywords in the right places.

The whole process feels random.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can develop tools and follow processes that can make you more successful.

A couple of items to keep in mind throughout your search:

  1. Organizations hire people because they have a problem that needs solving. They don’t hire because they have a vacancy. They save money on vacancies; and
  2. People hire people they know, or people they know know. That is, people who are referred to them by people they know.

So to be successful in your search, you need to know the organization’s problem and demonstrate that you know how to solve it; and you need to know someone who can provide access to the organization; someone from your network.

Know Your Professional Value

It is critical that you can articulate your professional value to a prospective employer. You need to demonstrate that you’ve successfully addressed the problems/challenges with which they’re confronted.

Remember, organizations hire because they have problems that need to be solved. You need to be the solution to their problem. Your professional value — sometimes referred to as “personal or professional brand” is the first step in aligning your qualifications and skill to their challenges.

Key questions to ask yourself in determining your professional value:

  • What are my top strengths and skills? (Don’t include loyal, punctual, quick learner.)
  • What is it I do really well? (Can you answer in a sentence or two?)
  • What am I most proud of in my career and how does it relate to the employer’s problem?

One way to demonstrate professional value is to tell brief stories about how you’ve been successful in past roles. We encourage clients to use the SAR model:

  • S = Situation, the problem statement;
  • A = Action, the actions you took to address the problem;
  • R = Results, the impacts of your actions on the problem.

Fitting your success stories to the SAR model helps clearly and concisely demonstrate your professional value.

Once you have your stories developed, you can integrate them into your resume and cover letter customized to the employer’s needs as outlined in the position description.

Leverage Your Network

Remember, people hire people they know or people who are referred to them by people they know. Leverage your network — the people you’ve met professionally and personally. Let them know what you’re looking for and how your professional value fits that target.

LinkedIn is an essential component of your job search. Whether you already have a job or are unemployed, you should create a compelling presence on LinkedIn.

Recruiters and HR managers source many of their candidates through LinkedIn. This means that talent search professionals seek qualified people for the jobs they have through LinkedIn.

Being on LinkedIn is about articulating your professional value and marketing yourself. It is about getting noticed by people who matter — people who just might be interested in hiring you for a new job or people who might be your next best clients or professional colleagues.

It’s one thing to have a strong, compelling profile on LinkedIn; but, the real power of LinkedIn is in leveraging your connections to gain access to decision makers in organizations you target.

You should never have to make a cold call in your networking efforts. Use your strong connections to introduce you to hiring managers and other decision makers that they know.

Nail the Interview

Once you have an interview with the organization you’ve targeted and applied to, you need to be prepared to articulate your professional value verbally.

You need to research the people you’re meeting. Again, LinkedIn is a good resource. By the way, if you’ve masked your privacy settings so that people can’t tell it’s you that viewing their profile, you need to change them. You want the people you’ll be interviewing with to know that you’ve looked at their profiles.

You need to research the company. Use your network for this. What do your professional colleagues know? And, of course, there’s always the internet. If the organization has been in the news lately, you’d better know that.

Know how to dress for the interview. Don’t be afraid to ask about the dress code for the organization, then dress above it.

Know what to take (extra copies of your resume; don’t assume those you’re meeting with will have copies). Know what to leave behind (your cell phone).

Be prepared to respond to questions about your experience and value. Use the SAR model to demonstrate concise examples of your value. Know what questions you want to ask in the interview, which ones will emphasize your value, and which one’s not to ask. Know how to ask about next steps in their process and how to ask for the position.

Follow up with a note of thanks and how you’re a perfect candidate for the role. Emphasize the issues that were raised in the interview.

A successful job search entails knowing your professional value and being able to articulate it verbally (in interviews and with your network), virtually (via LinkedIn) and in writing (resumes and cover letters).



How to deal with things you can’t control by Barbara Babkirk – September 9, 2015

You have choices in life that you may not always recognize…like whether or not to worry or obsess about not having a job or the slow response from prospective employers.

Even when you feel like you don’t, you often have options that can influence the process and perhaps shift the outcome of a situation—it’s all in your response.

By focusing on what is happening externally, you are likely to overlook what’s going on within you—such as your attitude and feelings—two things over which you have direct control.

You can have a direct impact on what you think or how you feel—unlike the impact you may have on what goes on around you.

Recently a friend recounted her experience in an airport, missing flight after flight home due to weather conditions. She first felt frustrated as though something was happening to her. While in a sense, this was true, it finally occurred to her that it was also true that she had choices as to how to spend her time and whether or not to be annoyed or good natured about it all.

Tensions ran high as passengers heard the news: no flights were coming or going. For the most part, she saw few people making lemon out of lemonade. They had all unconsciously decided to have a particular mindset about something external to them they could not change.

No matter the circumstances of your life, don’t overlook your attitude or your feelings. By shifting your attention, you might be surprised that you feel better by taking charge in some small way of what’s happening around you.

Boomers and the future of work by Scott Woodard – September 2, 2015

the-times-they-are-a-changin“Come gather round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown…If your time to you is worth savin’ then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone; for the times they are a-changin’.” ~ Bob Dylan

To many of us of a certain age, Dylan’s 1960s-era anthem of change was a warning to the established leadership that the “old road is rapidly agin’…the order is rapidly fadin’” and that soon, we Boomers would assume the mantle of leadership. Little did we realize that we would face changin’ times ourselves; times that would challenge our generation’s ability to adapt.

These changin’ times occur when Boomers find ourselves most vulnerable. As we near traditional retirement age, we are not ready–financially or emotionally–to follow in our parents’ footsteps; or to surrender leadership to the next generation. We still have years of productivity to contribute; we are not ready to be put out to pasture. Yet we’re stymied by the changing nature of work and our roles in it. The traditional 20th century models do not fit a 21st century reality.

The Emerging World of Work

We know that work and careers are “a-changin’.” The expectation of working for a single company for the length of a career is no longer valid. In fact, the expectation of a single career throughout one’s work life is no longer valid. Many of us have had several employers and more than a few careers.

In the emerging world of work, the term career will be as obsolete as the typewriter. Workers will have to assume responsibility for their own progress; not abdicating it to an organization. They will have to constantly demonstrate their value, learning new tools that continually increase their value. They will have to learn to be part of virtual, ad hoc teams, comprised of others all over the world.


The emerging world of work will provide workers with more freedom and power; however, they will have to adapt to its new aspects.

Four years ago, the internet venture capitalist, Mary Meeker noted that the future of technology will be social, local, and mobile: SoLoMo. With regard to the future of work and careers, the SoLoMo construct is also true.

SOCIAL: The future of work/careers is about connection. It’s about networking, relationship building, social media, etc. It’s about aligning one’s skills and expertise to the challenges faced by employers and clients. This social aspect applies whether one is looking to be an employee or a contractor.

LOCAL: The future of work/careers is about creativity–providing personal services tailored to the employer/client. It mean that one size does not fit all. It recognizes the uniqueness of each opportunity.

MOBILE: The future of work/careers is about flexibility. It’s about doing work from the office, from home or the coffee shop, which technology now allows. It’s about the opportunity to work outside the traditional 9 AM to 5 PM model. It’s about Result Oriented Work Environments.

Implications of the SoLoMo World of Work for Boomers

Like the song says, “the times they are a-changin’.” As Boomers struggle with the next act of their careers, trying to determine where they fit in a society that values younger, faster, cheaper talent, the SoLoMo construct provides a model they can use to their advantage. The model requires that Boomers adapt skills of connection, creativity and flexibility to their everyday work. Comfort and complacency aren’t an option. Boomers need to identify and articulate their value to prospective employers.

By keeping connected–both in terms of relationships with colleagues and potential employers–Boomers continue to be of value. By facilitating creative solutions to tough problems, Boomers demonstrate value. By being flexible and in meeting employers’ needs, Boomers prove their on-going value.

The SoLoMo model helps Boomers “start swimmin’” so they don’t “sink like a stone” as they continue to contribute in the emerging world of work.

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

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