I usually feel compelled to write when the seemingly disparate parts of my world collide. This time it was around the common theme of appreciation, specifically words of affirmation.
At work, I find myself reminding leaders about the importance of tailoring recognition and appreciation to the preferences of the recipient. A good, quick read on this topic is Chapman and White’s 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. If the title sounds familiar to you, that’s because there is a whole body of work around another book written by Chapman called The 5 Love Languages.” The language of appreciation that I’m focusing on here is “words of affirmation” i.e., written or spoken words of appreciation.
The sad part is, we often don’t even get to the preferences stage because demonstrating recognition or appreciation doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to work at it. Following are a few recent examples of “working at it” that I wanted to share.
Appreciate to motivate
A close friend of mine, who recently made a career change, committed to pursuing a certification to make herself more marketable. I asked her several times over the course of a few months if she was ready and she finally said yes a few weeks ago. Time, cost, and perceived lack of capability were not factors in this case, although they often are. For her, it was the fact that she needed to be emotionally ready to accept the career change and the uncertain path that lie ahead. This hesitancy to jump in head first into something new is foreign to me, but being the good therapist and friend to which I aspire, I empathized. I listened, waited, and when she was ready to sign up for the certification process, I made a huge (yet appropriate) celebratory deal complete with wine, dessert, and meaningful words of affirmation (her language of appreciation). My friend found this weird at first, but then she let herself be proud of accomplishment and thanked me for the effort.
Never too late to appreciate
I think we sometimes underestimate how much it means to others when they know they have made a difference. One client in particular comes to mind: the mother of a recent college graduate intent on joining the military in lieu of identifying a future career path. The parents struggled with his decision and perceived lack of direction. I worked with him for a short time and was really pleased with his progress. After a particularly busy time in their lives, I didn’t hear from the client or his parents. About a week ago, I received some very warm words of affirmation from the mother – namely that I helped both parents realize that they also needed to undergo a transformation. In the months following that realization, they savored the time they had with their son at home and they grew closer as a family. Her email validated my future dual career aspiration, counseling, and gave me the motivation to begin mapping out my next steps toward becoming a practicing therapist.
Ask for appreciation
My parents recently came to stay with us for a week to watch my daughter while her school was closed. Being on call from 8:00 – 5:00 M-F is asking a lot of her, even with an early childhood education background. My husband and I try to be proactive about demonstrating our appreciation, but it is hard not to go into emotional bank account overdraft with family, i.e., taking more than we give. I believe (especially with family, but also with a trusting manager at work) it’s okay to tell people what we need from them to feel valued and appreciated. Historically, my mom expected my brothers and me to read her mind. On this most recent trip, she pulled me aside at one point and said “I’m starting to feel resentful.” At first, I was irritated…we bought multiple meals out, stocked the house with items to make them feel at home, let them turn our house into the Sesame Street section of Party City. Where was this coming from? Then, I took a deep breath, recognized what a tremendous milestone this is that she actually told me instead of letting it fester, and said, “Mom, I’m sorry you feel that way. Thank you for telling me. Can you be more specific and let me know what more we can do?”
Appreciation at work
I was at a social gathering recently and engaged in conversation with an acquaintance who asked me for some advice about supervising “a millennial.” I’ll boil down the conversation into one direct quote from her, “Why should I be telling someone thanks for simply doing their job?” First, I don’t think it is a generational issue, and instead a personal preference. Second, we should thank our employees because they need to hear it. A paycheck is not enough to keep people motivated and increase their level of discretionary effort. There is plenty of research on this – just trust me. Plus, we should thank people and not assume they know we appreciate them. Further, have you ever supervised someone who does not do their job well? If so, you know that can be a huge professional burden and time suck. You spend hours coaching them to improve, reviewing and editing their work, and engaging in real-time performance discussions. If you aren’t proactively doing these things, then you are likely doing their work for them. Either way, it eats up a ton of your time and energy. When someone working for you does their job well, TELL THEM, THANK THEM, and give them more opportunity.
My daughter has started repeating much of what we say at home. While sometimes scary, it certainly reinforces the value in paraphrasing and restating. Lately I noticed her praising herself, unprompted. She says “Good job, Maddie!” after cleaning up after herself, putting on her shoes, or bringing one of us an item she knows we need. I’m proud of the act itself, but until the rest of the world catches up and works at appreciation more actively, I’m also proud that she is praising herself!
My company is full of acronyms. We sometimes make up acronyms for non-acronyms. My favorite of these occurred while I was reviewing a development plan for a high potential employee. I saw the letters “Cz” on the plan, and after applying some basic logic I knew we weren’t referring to the Czech Republic, I asked the employee what it meant. He said “Oh, I’m a characterization engineer.” My unfiltered reply was, “That’s not even an acronym!” He laughed, smiled, and replied, “Yes, but it’s a really long word.” Thanks captain obvious – that one I kept to myself.
So here’s another legitimate acronym I heard recently for Good Enough, Move On - GEMO. An executive mentioned it during a leadership team meeting I was facilitating. At first, I thought to myself, “what a silly expression!” I don’t need another acronym to remind myself when to stop refining the SmartArt graphics on my slides, looking for one more relevant quote for a school research paper, or digging through the index of a textbook to get the best possible score on a test when an “A or B” in the course is already inevitable.
Au contraire, self! GEMO has come to mind at least once daily in the context of my life, work, and school.
GEMO at Work
I was working on a proposal last week to address the needs of a new stakeholder group. I watched the clock tick by on Monday night as I continued refining my slides, e.g., “this agenda is boring – it needs a SMART art graphic. I should put in a timeline (even though this was just a draft to gauge initial reactions). Should this slide include a Venn diagram or two separate text boxes linked with a bi-directional arrow?” Seriously? I’m the only one who cares about this level of detail. Being a visual person is a curse. I reminded myself of GEMO and took a walk with my partner instead, which gave me greater clarity and perspective on where to put my time and energy – on articulating my ideas, not depicting them graphically. It was definitely the right move.
GEMO in Life
On the personal front, I was making myself crazy about trying to have the week’s laundry done, folded, and put away by Saturday afternoon. This was untenable after returning from a week-long work trip. Three fourths of the laundry was done by Sunday night and – shock – the world went on turning. We still had plenty to wear and we realized that since my toddler had surpassed the teething phase, we no longer needed an endless supply of bibs – hooray! So, my partner and I committed to GEMO with the laundry – we prioritize what’s most important - or what’s overflowing. I would not recommend this same approach with the trash, however.
GEMO at School
On the school front, I was recently forced into a GEMO state. I’m currently enrolled in a School Counseling course, an elective class as part of the Masters in Professional Counseling Program I’m enrolled in. When embarking on a new assignment, my preferred approach involves identifying multiple sources of information, reviewing them all at a high level, drafting an outline, and then going to town writing away. The GEMO state occurred during one particular class session I attended following vacation. Apparently, I had left my brain on vacation too because I realized I had a paper due that day, not the following class session like I planned. Yikes! I told the professor I would email her my paper later that day.
I knew I had the two hours during my toddler’s nap to complete the assignment, so I skipped the detailed outline, instead drafting one in my head on the drive home from class. I began writing, Googling as I needed to identify sources to support my claims and picked the most reputable sources in the immediate search list (instead of using the research database I typically use), I used footnotes (as opposed to APA format with a reference list because this professor shared that it wasn’t a priority for her), and I didn’t spend time proof reading the paper (knowing that even with some errors, my writing skills were strong enough to get a B). I got the paper back with 10 minutes to spare, a perfect score, and a comment that I should consider the School Counseling program as opposed to the Professional Counseling program. My initial response was pride – and then I thought, “Wow, how much time have I allocated to perfecting papers when I could have been doing something more enjoyable or important?”
I have many competing priorities – and so do you! Sometimes it can be helpful to ask ourselves questions like these?
- What is the desired outcome or impact?
- Who is this project/task most important to?
- Who can help me or what resources do I have to accomplish this project/task? What is holding me back from asking for their help?
- If I don’t maximize my effort, what is the impact? What’s the worst that can happen?
- How could my time be better allocated?
- What is most important to me? To the people who matter most to me?
- If the project/task isn’t completed by _____ (the internal deadline I set), what is the anticipated impact?
- If I didn’t have to complete this project/task, what would I do with my time?
- How will overexerting myself in this project/task affect my mental well-being?
In what aspects of your life and work could you benefit from taking a GEMO approach?
While some may consider it the local custom to "have work done" over a long break in Dallas, the title of this post actually refers to a LinkedIn face lift. One of my goals for the holiday season was to update my LinkedIn profile. Fortunately (since I have a great job), I did so with a "run/maintain" mindset, rather than with a "new project" or active job-seeker mindset. In this post, I'll provide you with some maintenance LinkedIn ideas I picked up from other blogs as well as a few ideas for those of you embarking on new projects or job searches.
Rewrite your professional summary
In revisiting my own profile, I first spent some time thinking through what I wanted someone scanning my profile to remember about me. In my case it was a two things:
a.) I operate with a business-focused mindset. I was concerned that my MS in Counseling might detract from my ability to offer pragmatic, solution-focused approach to my own and others' challenges. In addition to updating the language to more visibly make these points, I also added my MBA to my title.
b.) I wanted to highlight my present focus over my past. Again, I streamlined the language to highlight my primary role (talent development) and expertise as a career coach (with link to blog), as opposed to my past experience in talent selection/recruiting.
Scan your bullets for key words
Although I only performed a cursory scan myself, I feel compelled to direct you back to a post I composed a few months ago, Tell me a Story. In it, I created several word clouds using the text from my resume and LinkedIn profile to identify key words and themes. It was a useful exercise and one that re-affirmed an interest in and capability for supporting others' career development. The word cloud exercise also provided support for my next point.
Seek recommendations in alignment with specialties/interests
While I technically haven't taken this step just yet, I did begin to draft some bullet points I can later turn into recommendations from others. I have a meeting with a potential "recommender" this week and intend to follow step #3 (below). My personal approach for requesting LinkedIn recommendations is as follows:
- Assess experience gaps.
- Identify contacts in my network with exposure to my demonstration of related transferable skills.
- Inquire with contacts from #2, "If I were to take a first pass at a recommendation you could butcher as you see fit, would you mind revising it and posting it on LinkedIn for me?" In my experience, they have always agreed to do so. I compose the draft recommendation myself because a.) I try to make it easy on them and b.) I want to make sure it addresses the aforementioned experience gaps.
- I thank them and find a way to reciprocate in the future.
Tips for active job seekers
Following are a few ideas (in addition to those stated above) to get your profile noticed by prospective employers or clients:
- Ensure that your title and professional summary clearly state your interests and highlight experience relative to roles you are seeking.
- Have your profile "audited" by a trusted advisor to see what key themes emerge.
- Join relevant groups to get noticed and to expand your network of contacts. For example, if you are interested in making the transition from public to industry accounting, follow companies and industries of interest as well.
- Post a current picture. You MUST have a picture on your profile, preferably one that looks like you and not one in which you were 10 years younger or 20 lbs. lighter. People appreciate seeing the real, professional you and not the "hot night out with your sorority sisters" you. It can create some awkward cognitive dissonance in an interview process if you aren't portraying yourself accurately.
- Add a LinkedIn badge or your LinkedIn URL to your email signature. This step makes it easy to keep in touch with networking contacts and for prospective employers and hiring managers to distinguish you from a myriad of job candidates.
- Make your profile visible to all. Advanced privacy settings are better for Facebook (to avoid creepy exes). You want prospective employers to be able to find you, even if it means the occasional connection requests (which are easy to ignore) from strangers or people you'd prefer to avoid.
I recently celebrated my birthday, and besides eating pizza for breakfast (which I happily did), writing a blog entry (posted a little late) was the only thing I really wanted to do. So, I took a brief respite from laundry and instructional design (what I really needed to be working on) to address some recent themes I’ve been observing in the interview space.
Why this topic?
In all fairness, I’ve only watched about 1/16 of a football game this season, but since I attended Ohio State, I believe that offers me enough street cred to use a football-themed blog title, “Flag on the Play.”
The inspiration for this entry is two-fold: 1.) A friend recently and successfully landed a job outside of her functional expertise and 2.) I have interviewed several campus candidates who could have better prepared to address their red flags.
A red flag in the interview process is a potential concern a prospective employer might zero in on at any point in the hiring process to give him/her reason to question the candidate’s fit for the role or organization. It might be visible from a candidate’s resume or it may come out in the interview process. If not addressed proactively, red flags often result in removal from consideration.
Following are a few key points to consider as you embark on a job search or interview process as it relates to addressing the red flags.
- Know your red flags
My friend recently interviewed for a position at another company. She received an offer and starts on Monday! In her case, there were two red flags: no formal functional experience in the function into which she would be hired, and geographic distance from where the position was based. Clearly, both were significant, so we addressed them head on.
- Have a story to tell
For the first red flag, no formal functional experience, we started with her resume. First we began by tailoring her resume to ensure that all information relevant (in his case, mainly transferable skills from her previous experience in sales) to her position of interest was highlighted in the bullet points at the beginning of each of his past roles. We talked through and scrutinized each experience she had that was relevant to the new role.
For the geographic distance red flag, we brainstormed different ways to approach the topic. She had three talking points prepared 1.) When servicing ABC customer (conveniently located across the street from current employer of interest), she drove every day, leaving home and the office early and it was a manageable commute. 2.) She has a friend who works in geographic proximity to the employer of interest, and they have discussed carpooling a few days a week. 3.) Once relationships are established with key partners at the site, perhaps it would be feasible to work from home on occasion? (a back up talking point to use once an offer was in sight and a culture of flexibility was validated).
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
It is critical to practice interviewing in general, but it is also EXTREMELY important to practice addressing the red flags. You want to be ready to insert an intelligent, well thought out response when opportunities present themselves, whether it’s in a formal interview setting, a casual conversation by the water cooler, or a pre-interview dinner. You never know when red flag questions will come up, so you have to be prepared. I also recommend preparing a behavioral interview response for every theme you may be asked about. When it comes to red flags, you give a prospective employer more confidence in your ability to learn on the job (and quickly) when you can briefly and concisely discuss how you did something similar in the past.
My friend prepared for this by asking me to mock interview her. I did so before each round of interviews so that she would feel more prepared and confident regarding the red flags. I prepared the “red flag questions” and asked her to draft a list of other questions she thought she might be asked. The red flag questions included, “So, you live far away, How are you feeling about the commute?” and “I see you haven’t formally held a position like this before. How would you get yourself up to speed on related core competencies? And “When have you had to learn and apply something new in the past?”
Campus candidate red flags
At the beginning of this entry, I alluded to some campus-related red flags I’ve noticed. If any of the following criteria applies to you (or someone you know), I recommend that you 1.) Know your red flags 2.) Have a story 3.) Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse!
- Transferred colleges/universities more than once
- Had too much fun Freshman year
- Low GPA
- Unclear from resume/internships why a major or career path was selected
- Unprepared to describe why you want to work for the prospective employer
- Have MANY activities/jobs listed on your resume, but no leadership experience in any of them
- Unable to explain each work, class, or organizational experience you engaged in briefly and concisely, providing enough context, actions, and results you demonstrated to pique the interviewer’s curiosity
Experienced Candidate red flags
In addition to above, other red flags for experienced candidates include:
- Gaps in experience
- Frequent changes in position
- Less than one year of employment in any role
- Educational information unclear or not provided on resume
- Unclear from resume or the interview as to why you are pursuing the position of interest
- Personal information on a resume (e.g., family information)
My mother-in-law usually keeps a seemingly endless supply of chocolate, cookies, and various assorted sweets on hand in her home. She eats none of these herself, but has them ready for guests. For two weeks I’ve been able to pass over said sweets for the first time in approximately nine months of post-maternity visits. I asked myself, “What’s different?” Surely it couldn’t only be attributed to the fact that I started Weight Watchers again? I don’t have that kind of willpower.
Then, it hit me. Knowing that I was going to have to step on a scale in front of colleagues, some of whom I hardly know, and a quirky WW meeting leader (They are all kind of strange. Surely this must be a prerequisite), on Thursday for my moment of truth was enough. Or was it? The first week I gained some weight and thus thought very little of the Nutella and graham cracker shake I consumed with sweet potato fries at our favorite burger joint.
The next week I stopped eating after 8:00 PM and forwent sweets in lieu of herbal tea at night. Some of this was merely chance since I was locked in our home office after 8PM, taking conference calls with colleagues in Asia. But alas, I lost 3 lbs. that week! That small bit of reinforcement coupled with the Weight Watchers meetings was the catalyst for avoiding the sweet temptation at my mother-in-law’s. It was the positive reinforcement I got by stepping on the scale, seeing the number go down, in front of a bunch of people who are practically strangers. For two weeks, I have avoided sweets (save the soy lattes at Starbucks on Saturday mornings) because every time I think about climbing on the step stool and getting into my husband’s stash of cookies I made him hide, I remember how good it felt to see that number on the scale along with the reminder that others were watching.
So, you may be asking yourself, “Where is she going with all this?” When I conceptualized this blog entry, I wasn’t sure, but now it’s two major points as it relates to behavior change – accountability and positive reinforcement. Whether you are embarking on a career transition or a weight loss journey, the same advice applies:
Hold yourself accountable
Having an accountability partner (or source of accountability) can go a long way for those of us light on willpower. I have zero qualms paying the monthly fee (thanks to my company, for chipping in the first half) to have a room of accountability partners when it comes to weight loss. I will take all the accountability help I can get…my husband (hiding the chips and cookies and asking, “Are you sure you want to eat that?”), my colleagues (who have stopped offering sweets and support my efforts), the staff at my daughter’s school (who ask how my weigh-ins go), my mom (whose genetics are partially to blame for my body type), and now my internet audience.
Seek out positive reinforcement
Coupling the sources of accountability with a least one, but preferably multiple sources of reinforcement, both intrinsic (I eat better because it makes me feel better and gives me more energy) and extrinsic (I eat better because I know others in the WW program at my office are watching when I step on the scale) can keep you on the right track. To take the reinforcement a step further, when I reached my most recent weight loss milestone, I treated myself to a new piece of workout attire.
Accountability during career transitions
When you are looking for a new job, partner up with someone else embarking on a career transition. Consider meeting with that person once a week, live or over the phone, to check-in on your progress. Commit to actions (no more than you can realistically handle, e.g., one networking meeting per week or attending one career seminar). Honor those commitments and share the outcomes with your accountability partner(s).
Determine how you and your partner will reward yourselves to positively reinforce your behavior. For the aforementioned networking example, I once advised a client to schedule something fun with a friend every time he scheduled a networking conversation. That way, he would eventually develop more of a positive association through the pairing of these two activities.
Most of us are energized and excited about an endeavor when it involves the ability to master something new, do it autonomously, and when we can see the broader purpose behind it. A job search or self-exploration process may not fall into this camp for you. I was shocked when one of my former managers, a serious go-getter when it came to anything on-the-job, disclosed that she was lousy at making career transitions. She shared that every time she was ready to make a move, she hired a career coach to hold her accountable. Whether it’s diet, exercise, or embarking on a career transition, if you find that the process is too hard for you to manage on your own, consider finding a coach to help you stay on track.
Best of luck with your own transition!