Feeling stuck in your career? Try these steps.

What’s on your career “to do” list that you keep putting off?

Is it updating a resume that’s ten years old? Sending an email to a colleague to ask for introductions? Attending a professional meeting and risk having to tell someone you’re not working or unhappy with your current job?

While it may seem that these tasks are benignly hanging out on a list, they are, in fact, zapping your energy just by being in queue along with other obligations.

When you postpone some action you need to take, you’re not really free from it because it will occupy your thoughts until you act on it.

Completing the task may be simpler than you imagine.

Typically, procrastination is not rooted in poor time management or lack of discipline, but rather, in how we’re framing the action we need to take.

For example, if you need to tap contacts in your career field, but aren’t sure what to say, you might convince yourself that no one will want to help you. With that mindset, there’s no use in making the effort—and so you don’t.

Or, you might need to update your resume or improve your a LinkedIn profile, but you’re unaware of current best practice or how to convey your professional value. So, you make up a story that you’re not really employable which zaps any motivation to move forward.

The following five steps can help you shift from inaction to action and empower you to take charge of your career:

  1. Recognize the career-related task/s you are delaying.

  2. Be honest with yourself about what’s behind your inaction. Is it fear or a lack of knowledge that is keeping you stalled?

  3. Sort out the facts from what you’ve assumed or made up. Do a reality check and/or ask for some help about how to proceed.

  4. Break the task down into manageable steps with adequate timeframes for completion.

  5. Seek help from a professional if you need facts and help getting started and moving forward.

Job Search and Interview Tips: What HR Professionals and Recruiters Notice

You’re about to conduct a job search or maybe you’re in the midst of your job search and you’ve finally landed a promising interview.

What do you do and…what do you make sure you DON’T do?

Since I’m the primary interview coach at Heart At Work Associates, I wanted to consider these questions from the perspective of the job searcher’s “customer”: the HR professionals who will decide whether they get the interview and if they get the job.

This blog post is the first of a series of interviews. The HR professional I interviewed for this article is a highly respected seasoned Chief Human Resources Officer at a financial services organization.

What follows are her answers to some of the important questions you need to ask when conducting a job search and preparing for an interview.

How to deal with things you can’t control

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.

Stay engaged in your job search after an interview

I know it’s tempting…you’ve had a great interview and so you decide to wait on pursuing other job prospects until you receive word (of an expected job offer).

Even though that may seem to be a reasonable thing to do, it’s a bad idea and here are three reasons why:

  1. Waiting is deflating. If you put your search on hold, you’re likely to lose positive momentum, which is key to a successful outcome.

  2. You could lose a sense of control over your process if you count on someone else’s response to trigger next steps in your job search strategy.

  3. You may not be the top candidate. Even with an outstanding interview, you may lose out to another applicant and then you’ll feel like you’re back at square one.

So, move ahead with your job search strategy, in spite of great feedback and what seemed like a winning interview.

If you don’t hear back from your interviewer in the timeframe that was mentioned, check back in ten days or so.

Any hiring process can be delayed for dozens of reasons you can’t even imagine. So, don’t jump to conclusions about what’s actually going on as to why the search is delayed. It’s common to make up stories, but they are often negative ones and not in your best interest. Stick with the facts and keep your fears at bay.

Return to your contact list and make a few phone calls to arrange “strategic conversations” to stay in job search mode.

There’s a reason why the adage “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” has withstood the test of time. It particularly holds true when you’re in the job market.

Find the pause button and get the clarity you need

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.

The key element in a successful job search

Stop winging it with random networking emails or calls and posting and praying (your resume that is).

Start creating your strategy– and the practice of communicating your professional value – verbally, virtually and in writing.

I’ve found that many job seekers can pull off one of the above, but it’s rare that someone has their act together in all three ways of being strategic in their job search.

Here are tips for creating a winning strategy:

Verbally – Use talking points to practice conveying the following:

  • Your current status (keep it short and sweet—no lengthy explanation of why you’re leaving your job or much less about why you lost your job because you did not see eye to eye with the new leadership).

  • The skills and competencies you want to put to use in your next opportunity

  • An interest in the challenges your contact faces that require those skills and competencies

  • Advice about others with whom you should be meeting and a request for an introduction to someone

Virtually – You must be present in an effective way on Linkedin (90+% of people sourcing talent look there first)

  • Populate the key areas of your profile that pull on searches: your headline (which most people underuse with a job title rather than who you are in the marketplace and the impact you have) and a summary that tells a short story about who you are, what you do and why you do it.

  • Bring your profile to “expert” or “all star” status by making sure your profile is complete with recommendations, a photo, summary, a few groups and an appropriate headline next to your photo.

In Writing – People fret over cover letters, but it’s not necessary!

Use the job description as your guide and select the most pertinent (according to your skills and prospective employer needs) requirements. Then clearly state when you’ve demonstrated those requirements. Keep in mind that most employers have a check list that they use to screen applicants. Save them time by addressing the criteria clearly with good examples.

Take Charge of Your Career in Six Steps

There’s a trend I’ve noticed over the years as a career development professional. Somewhere in the 40s decade, people are often inclined to take action on their careers. It’s as though they feel an internal prompt, rather than an external motivator.

“I just fell into my career and I want to be more planful going forward. If it’s going to happen, it needs to be now.” That’s a common statement that the 40-something clients make.

If this describes you, then perhaps the following six steps will help you shift from a passive to a pro-active approach to your work life and career path.

  • Take stock of what you want from work in this stage of your life. Ask yourself if your competencies, interests and values are adequately met in your work and workplace. If not, then consider negotiating another arrangement or consider a job search to work that is more aligned.

  • Be mindful of your assumptions about what’s possible. Keep in mind what you want as outcomes, not what you fear.

  • Understand the professional value you bring to the marketplace and seek out opportunities to communicate it verbally (meetings, performance reviews), virtually (with a great LinkedIn profile) and in writing (effective emails, outstanding resume, crisp cover letters).

  • Create opportunities to increase your visibility with your clients, prospective clients or employer.

  • Stay current with best practices in your field and be innovative in presenting new ideas and practices. Be prepared to communicate your knowledge of trends in interviews or in professional conversations.

  • Consistently attend to your needs. Take time to replenish your energy so you’ll be in good shape to seize the next best opportunity.

How to keep your skills sharp when you’re unemployed

The 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 happens when you take a leap of faith?

I’ve seen several clients recently who took a leap of faith around their work, so I decided the topic was blog material.

While in each scenario, the circumstances surrounding the leap were unique; each person experienced a similar outcome.

Take for example, the person who, after many years as a master teacher, quit teaching, even though he did not have a specific job or even a concrete alternative option in mind.

Another, after a dozen years as a “stay at home mom”, took a business idea seriously and enrolled in a course to help aspiring entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

A third person altered his original “three year plan” of disengaging himself from his family business and decided to leave in a year without any guarantees that his idea to reinvent himself would be successful.

Despite totally different career paths, marketable skills and economic backgrounds, these people had some significant factors in common in their leap of faith stories.

  1. Each had been involved in a long term work scenario that, although not entirely satisfying, was
    comfortable and secure in its own way.

  2. None of the individuals was being forced into a change by external circumstances—the impetus
    was entirely self-driven.

  3. And most interesting to me was that they all experienced a rush of unanticipated support from
    a wide range of places and people once they began to talk about their idea. From offers of
    places to rent for a new business and chance encounters with people with appropriate resources
    and information, to a conversation with a relative that lead to the naming of the
    business—each person felt overwhelmed by the amount of positive energy that their leap of
    faith seemed to release.

The phenomenon of a convergence of helpful resources that counters a somewhat risky endeavor is not new to me. In fact, it’s very common for a person to come in for a career counseling session, identify something they are particularly interested in, and also state why it is a risk.

They create an impasse in their minds and stay in that stuck place. In the instances when the person tips the scale in their thinking in favor of the leap of faith, it doesn’t mean the fear has vanished—it’s just that they have decide to move ahead in spite of it.

In the latter case, I help the person take a few steps toward their desired career to determine if the direction seems right and to gather some momentum for the transition.

A couple weeks later, I’m always delighted to hear a familiar opening remark when the person comes in for a follow-up session: “You won’t believe what happened!”
Then their story unfolds and I hear myriad examples of how their leap of faith idea took on a life of its own and gathered supporters in the process.

After many years witnessing this phenomenon through clients’ stories, I’ve come to believe that there are rewards for taking a leap of faith risk. It would seem that Eleanor Roosevelt had a premonition of these positive outcomes when she said: “Do the thing you think you can not.”

How to shift your fears in any transition

The fear of the unknown that’s inherent in any transition can take its toll on even the most courageous.

There’s just something about a blank slate of possibilities that prompts creative minds to conjure up lists of “what if” scenarios—most of which reflect our fears and impact our hearts and minds.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear clients expressing trepidation about their career change that’s based entirely on what they fear will happen, as opposed to what they hope will occur.

Any transition involves facing the unknown and that typically triggers anxiety.

While you may believe that your negative projection into the future is necessary to feel prepared for anything that might occur, it actually works against you.

This often spontaneous and habitual thought process is a waste of time, energy and attention because it is likely to interrupt your momentum or stop you in your tracks.

Successfully maneuvering through a transition requires nimbleness and openness to possibilities. Fear elicits the opposite, and has you “pull in the wagons of your life” in anticipation of some threatening outcome.

When you consciously think about what you desire, you create an effective alternative to the scenarios that typically make you want to hide under your bed covers.

I’m not suggesting that you just “think happy thoughts”, but rather, that you focus your attention, breathe, and get clear about the intention and desired outcome(s) for your transition.

While you cannot control all aspects of any change, you can control your thinking and your response to your transition.

In doing so, you will shift your attention from what you don’t want to occur to more appealing prospects. With this shift to a more trusting mindset, you should feel calmer and more able to move forward and complete the tasks that will make you successful.