Sweats to Suits Your transition from campus to the workplace


Tell Me a Story

I recently helped a family member (FM) update his resume after determining that he was ready to embark on a career change. Fortunately, it was not a total shift in career, more of a lateral move into a related function. However, when making even a slight move from your path, I still believe it’s important to ensure that your resume and related career documents tell a story – about where you’re headed as opposed to where you’ve been. This is exceptionally challenging if you believe you lack the requisite skills or experience to make the move, but OJT, or on-the-job training exists for a reason.   People who exhibit potential, sell “transferrable skills” well with networking contacts, and articulate those skills on their resumes are able to make career transitions much more smoothly.

Okay, back to my family member making the transition… After we got past the exploration phase and narrowed FM’s interests down to two functions, we were ready to start tackling his resume.  After a cursory round of some obligatory edits (e.g., including his current position, adding an objective and professional summary, putting focus on ACR (see below), and deleting a bunch of irrelevant bullets) I asked FM what kind of story he wanted his resume to tell and he said he wasn’t sure.  Brief sidebar: I just read a chapter in my career counseling textbook on developing a career narrative, so I am working on my own evidence-based research here! Second brief sidebar: many people don’t know what they want until they see something they don’t want.  I suggested to FM that we conduct an experiment to see what his resume tells us now as a starting point.

Sophisticated Analysis

I did two things. First, I scanned FM’s resume and "calculated" (checkmarks on the back of a bank statement) the number of times I saw a particular industry appear and did the same for function/area of expertise.  Then I asked FM to create a word cloud, like the ones in the graphics below (he used the site, Wordle. Mine (see below) are from a site called “Word it Out” – my Mac was apparently engaged in a spat with Java).  Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.17.44 PMYou basically cut and paste text into an open text field on the site and it provides you with a colorful assortment of words – sized according to frequency.  Not surprisingly, the words that appeared most in my frequency analysis of FM’s resume (tally marks highlighted, highly sophisticated) and in FM’s word cloud were not the ones he wanted to highlight to an employer.  FM then started deleting, changing, and revising bullets.  He is still working on the revised version, but he knew which terms he wanted to highlight and which ones to minimize. The homework I gave him was to create a new word cloud to see if it tells a more compelling story.

Another Resume Nugget

I alluded to an acronym earlier, ACR.  I’ve mentioned CAR in past blog entries, which stands for Context, Action, and Result(s) as a way to structure behavioral-based interview responses.” People in my field also use STAR, or Situation, Task, Action, and Result, which interestingly enough is a model you can use for delivering performance feedback as well. In any event, I think CAR is easier to remember.  This is an entry about resumes and not interviewing, but the two go hand in hand. Every bullet of your resume should address the Action, Context, and Result, in that order (or sometimes Action, Result, Context).  While revising FM’s resume, I noticed that several of his bullets started with the result and some began with context. Employers care about all three, but it’s most important to start with a sophisticated past-tense verb/verb phrase.  “Developed and implemented are better than “supported.” Even if you did support a team in the development/implementation of a project, start with the stronger verb and then hit them with the support in the context, e.g., as part of a strategy team of four.

What I Learned from my own Word Cloud Exercise

Besides performing an activity that appeals to my value of “aesthetics,” I now have a simple way of viewing an outsider’s perception of my career evolution over the past few years.  If someone were to look at my resume right before I started working for my current employer (green word cloud), they would likely come away with the perception that I either focus on my own career or that of others, my experience is geographically diverse, and that I’ve done a lot of recruiting.  Fortunately, the words “coach, business, and training” stuck out to my current employer via the interview process.

Word Cloud from November 2011

Resume Word Cloud_Nov2011

If I were to look for a position similar to mine right now (see purple word cloud/current LinkedIn profile), I would need to consider de-emphasizing the college/university focus (this would be a different story if I had a degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology) also coaching.  Fortunately, development stands out - but it should be more prominent, along with other key words/phrases, like organizational effectiveness and change, assessment interpretation, leadership, and instructional design.

Word Cloud from “under construction” LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn Word Cloud_Dec2013

I took the exercise one step further and created a word cloud based on others' LinkedIn recommendations of me (blue word cloud).  It's nice that my name stands out along with that of my former employer, but the themes aren't clear nor are they current.  So, my homework over the next few months is to incorporate language into my LinkedIn profile or resume that more accurately reflects the work I do and to obtain LinkedIn recommendations from people familiar (and pleased with) that work.  Yes, I am updating my resume and NOT looking for a new job.  'Tis the season - update yours too!

LinkedIn Recommendations Word Cloud

LinkedIn Recommendations Word Cloud_Dec2013



Train your Brain

I was looking for an intersection between my role in corporate America and the counseling degree I’m simultaneously pursuing.  Fortunately, I work with engineers and IT people (along with an assortment of “special” extended family members), so I have opportunities to diagnose people all day long, but that is really just for fun.  I was looking for something more robust. Alas, the November issue of HBR (once I finally removed it from its plastic protective covering…yes, I am old school and like to read the paper version) provided me with that opportunity.  If you’re not a subscriber, you can read the related article, “Emotional Agility,” on the HBR magazine website.Harvard-Business-Review-November-2013

When I first saw the title, I thought to myself, “great, another spin on Emotional Intelligence (EQ). How is this any different?” The concept of emotional agility is derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which posits that “greater well-being can be attained by overcoming negative thoughts and feelings” (Serani, 2011).  It involves accepting one’s reaction to the present through mindfulness, choosing a valued direction to stick to goals, and taking action to make changes.  I am no Daniel Goleman (father of and seminal author on EQ) expert, but to me the differentiator appears to be internalized action, such that with emotional agility you actually do something to change your negative thoughts and train yourself to do so more rapidly over time, whereas with EQ the only expectation is that you change your behavior and externalized action. To be fair, there is self-management associated with EQ, but the focus on mindfulness is more robust with ACT.  Further, EQ isn’t a therapeutic method, whereas ACT is.

Okay, enough psychobabble. On to the article and how you can apply it to yourself…

Authors, Susan David and Christina Congleton (not shocking that they are both women, right?), share that most of our thoughts are judgments tinged with emotion, rather than facts. We are conditioned to suppress our negative thoughts since fish-hookthey have no place at the office, but according to David and Congleton, this contradicts basic biology.  They suggest that we get “hooked” by these thoughts, like fish on a line. I trust that you understand the analogy as outdoor activities involving animals turned to food aren’t really my thing. For those of us indoor types, when we suppress these thoughts and emotions, it only serves to amplify them.  So what do you do to become more emotionally agile? According to the authors, it’s four things:

Recognize Your Patterns

The first step is training yourself to acknowledge when you are feeling sucked in by your thoughts and feelings.  Perhaps you have a physiological reaction, like your heart beating faster or your temperature rising every time a “special” co-worker comes by your cube or when his or her phone number appears on your phone? This might be a precursor to the gripping thoughts and emotions…something like “Jim is such a jerk. I hate when he questions what I do!” According to David and Congleton, a telltale sign of a pattern is when it becomes rigid and repetitive,” e.g., you recognize that you have these sorts of thoughts not just around Jim, but other colleagues and people with whom you have worked at past employers as well.

Label Your Thoughts and Emotions

The concept of mindfulness comes into play with this second step such that we are psychologically skilled to take a step back from our current situation and examine it further. In doing so, we can label what we feel – identifying it as the thought or emotion it really is. For example, “I’m feeling angry right now. I don't like feeling as though I’m being questioned.” thinking_feeling_globalThe practice of pulling ourselves away from a situation and examining it has the propensity not just to improve our behavior and well-being, but also promotes beneficial biological changes in our brain cells.

Accept Them

This step makes me think about driving on the freeways in Dallas. I’ve commented more than once on how people in the south conceal their true feelings and emotions and instead, plaster on a happy face. I firmly believe that they only hold it in until they get in their cars, hop on a north-south expressway, and take the aggression out on their fellow drivers.  Not accepting one’s thoughts and emotions, either by holding them in or displacing them on others, is unhealthy (although seemingly cathartic behind the wheels of a Ford F-150). Mindfulness and acceptance gives you the power and freedom to make a better choice regarding how to express your thoughts and emotions in a healthy way.  Take solace in the fact that you are experiencing certain thoughts for a reason and that you can do something about it.

Act on Your Values

To me, this step is about congruence, or when our ideal selves and experiences are consistent.  It is also about consequences.  How will your behavior and actions serve you and others? Blowing up at Jim or sending secret, hateful stares through your cube walls probably won’t help you fulfill your short or long-term career goals.  If you pride yourself as someone collaborative and considerate, neither of the aforementioned reactions to your thoughts are congruent with that perspective.

Members of my generation probably remember the slogan for the G.I. Joe cartoon and action figures, “Knowing is half the battle.” GiJoeLogo1aPerhaps the military was on to something before its time. Self-awareness is critically important to the regulation of our thoughts and emotions. Could you list your top five pet peeves in less than five minutes? Spend some time thinking about them and how you typically react.  If this task is too insurmountable, just start with your car - the next time you shout at another driver, honk at someone, or breeze past another vehicle at 75 MPH, take note!

Note: After drafting this post, my mom actually directed me to a recent Huffington Post article about EQ with a quick test to assess your own level of emotional intelligence. I can't speak to its reliability or validity, but it's certainly worth a read!


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November is for Networking

Now that our infant is on a relatively predictable eating and sleeping schedule, I’ve been able to start scheduling lunches and breakfasts with friends, former colleagues, and professors to keep my network “warm”.  To prove that I am not a complete nerd, I also used my maternity leave as an opportunity to visit the arboretum, zoo, and art museum in Dallas. Now that I’ve written that, I actually think going on these touristy junkets in my own city makes me a bigger nerd.  C’est la vie!  All that being said, I feel fortunate to have a good baby who is already learning the importance of keeping one’s network strong – although she may not realize she’s learning it just yet. Infants can acquire knowledge through osmosis, correct?

Read on for some networking tips and resources as well as a sad, but true interview and networking blunder.

What do you want to do?

I won’t belabor the point on this topic, but rather direct you to blog entries I’ve written that address the job search process or career exploration in more detail. In brief, it’s important to take inventory of your motivated skills (the things you are good at and enjoy doing), your values, and your related experience.  Ideal Job Venn DiagramI have used several card sorts and assessments in the past to help students or clients build a stronger job search foundation.  Creating an “Ideal Job Venn Diagram” like the one in the image below by David Hamil is a good way to preliminarily map your thoughts.



Who can help you get there?

During my tenure as a college career coach, I contributed to the content for job search collateral our office produced.  One of these documents, entitled Identifying Your Network, addresses how one might go about building a list of potential contacts.  It is definitely worth a download, but I will share some of the highlights here. Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 9.38.44 PM

Before that, however, I want to draw your attention to a Venn diagram I have been mapping on dry erase boards and on the back of resumes – for friends, clients, and colleagues embarking on a search.  Since I can’t draw it for you, I figured I’d enter the 21st century and create an electronic version.  Before you start manually listing contacts, it’s important to narrow the focus for where you’ll want to find them. Job Search Sweet SpotIdentifying the “sweet spot” or intersection between your geographic preferences (e.g., New York vs. Los Angeles or Chicago vs. the western suburbs), desired role or function (e.g., HR Business Partner, Development/Grant work, hedge fund management, etc.), or company/industry of choice (PepsiCo/Consumer Packaged Goods or American Heart Association/Non-Profit Sector).  Once you identify the “sweet spot” you can start to find human contacts connected to the roles you want in your desired company or industry of interest in a geographically desirable location. Be reasonable, however.  If you are a marine biologist, you are unlikely to find a robust job search sweet spot in a place like Abilene, Texas.


Now, on to the networking list…It is important to keep in mind that what seems like a dead end, may actually be fruitful lead when you ask that individual about people he or she knows who can help you.  Perhaps your parents’ friends aren’t working for any of your desired employers, but some of their friends do or maybe they did previously, especially if they are what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as “Connectors.” Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 9.47.50 PMIn his novel, The Tipping Point, Gladwell, states that these are people with a “truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances.” If you aren’t a connector, you will want to associate yourself with people who are!

Consider starting with contacts at your current and previous employers and clients/vendors. Obviously, you want to make sure these are individuals you trust enough not to reveal your networking efforts if you are in fact searching for a new job. In my case, I have no intention of leaving my job. I am reconnecting with my contacts for the long-term so that the next opportunity (if/when it is time to make a move) will find me.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 9.41.46 PMAre you a member of any professional associations? Alumni groups? Even if you are only connected to people in groups on LinkedIn, you’d be amazed by how frequently they are willing to help you if you have an impressive profile and/or a mutual connection.  How about alumni organizations? Again, people are often willing to go out of their way to help a fellow Wildcat, Badger, Longhorn, Buckeye (of course I had to put that in there) etc.

We’re moving on to your personal life – friends, family, and neighbors (we have a pediatric nurse and VP of HR on our street – good folks to know!).  What about members of community and religious institutions or physicians/healthcare professionals? My nutritionist informally offered me a future internship at the wellness center she owns when I finish my counseling degree and she already set me up with an LPC (Licenses Professional Counselor) from her office to interview for a school assignment.  Religious connections are almost as important as alumni ties, maybe more so. See a previous entry, L.A. Law, for related tips.


What's Next

I’m enrolled in a Career Counseling course next session so I should have more to offer on this topic in the next month or two.  Although my husband said, “Well, you could pass that class in your sleep, right?” My reply was, “perhaps, but I’m sure I’ll have to unlearn some things I’ve been doing pragmatically as opposed to theoretically.  This class may give me a foundation I never received.” We’ll see how it goes, but I’m hopeful that I can impart a good deal of what I’ve learned on to you.

Blunder: Networking Gone Wild

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a coaching class as part of my MBA curriculum with a fellow student, now friend and colleague, working for my current employer.  I’ll call her Karen.  Interestingly enough, Karen and I had another classmate who also interviewed with my employer several months prior.  We’ll refer to her as “Jenny.” It turns out that Jenny not only made eyes roll in class with her comments, but she elicited the same reaction from my colleagues whenever her name came up in conversation.  After being declined for a second interview, Jenny proceeded to contact my manager, his manager, and our VP of HR to continue to express her interest in the role.  She has since reached out to other classmates working for my employer, claiming that it is her dream company, and asking them to help her cause. Folks, just like in love, desperation never works in one’s favor.Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 9.44.19 PM

Another interesting twist to the story is that during my recruitment process, my manager noticed that Jenny and I had the same concentration on our resumes. My manager contacted Karen immediately to see if she knew me.  Karen had not endorsed Jenny during her hiring process – not only due to a lack of fit, but also because of the quality of her work product and inability to contribute to group assignments (like a death sentence in an MBA program). Fortunately, Karen spoke highly of my coaching ability (after I coached her during one of our class sessions) and told my manager that it would be a mistake not to hire me.

Your reputation precedes you and follows you beyond the hiring process.  Although I felt the impulse to coach Jenny on how to better approach the hiring process with prospective employers, I stopped myself.  I’m trying to get better at only offering advice when solicited, so when Jenny sent me a holiday card at the office this year, it promptly went in the recycling bin.





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Back in the Saddle

It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by since my last blog entry. backinsaddle_newIn terms of life and work happenings…my husband and I bought our first home, I started supporting a new business and began working for an awesome new manager at work, I went back to school to pursue a Masters in Counseling, and we had a baby girl!  Needless to say, we’ve been rather busy, but here’s hoping that motherhood will teach me to execute all things more efficiently, including blogging.

 Maternity leave is by no means a vacation or break, but since I have the help of a supportive spouse and mom for a few more days I felt it was time to get back to writing.  I’ve also had some great inspiration recently as it relates to resumes and networking thanks to friends, family, and classmates.  I thought I’d use this entry as an opportunity to address some quick tips on resumes and save the networking piece for a future entry.

Here are several of my own guiding principles when it comes to resume reviews.  The same advice applies when incorporating this content into your LinkedIn profile.  I hope you find it useful!

Comprehensive picture

Any recruiter or hiring manager should be able to look at your resume and quickly ascertain the big picture as it relates to your career.  Who-are-youEven if the recruiter knows zero about selling medical devices, packaging financial instruments, writing code, or enshuring OSHA and safety compliance, he or she should be able to figure out the basics based on how you articulate these experiences on your resume.  This gets us to the next principle…

Accomplishment statements

I recently reviewed the resumes of several friends and family members, after which I realized that the most common revisions were related to articulating their accomplishments.  Have no fear if this is something you struggle with!  I spent a lot of time coaching students and alumni on this topic when I was a career coach – and even still in my role as a Talent Development Manager. Accomplishment statements clearly establish what you did, how you did it, and the related results through well-written, present or past-tense (not both!) bullet points (not paragraphs) in implied first person (i.e., no “I” or other pronouns in your resume). Accomplishment-Statements1Think about it as if you were answering a behavioral interview question with one phrase….”Scripted, produced, and marketed performance management video series targeted to 1,500 employees, resulting in a 40% increase in documentation of performance discussions”.  For more information on how to compose accomplishment statements and organize a resume, download these tip sheets offered by my previous employer: Accomplishment Statements and Write a Resume.  I offer these up with the caveat that they were developed for college students, however, I feel that much of the advice still applies to “adults.”


Your first bullet point under each experience should be explanatory, such that it allows the employer understand exactly what you were hired to do, and if appropriate, provide an overview of the organization/department you worked for.  I am not endorsing a bullet point that just describes your organization (this is what Google is for!), however, I do recommend that your first bullet point cover both the basics of your job plus some background on the company (if not well known).  construction-lit_insetFor example: “Provide coaching, leadership development, instructional design, and organizational expertise and programs for ABC Analog business, IT function, and employees worldwide for $___M semiconductor organization”.  The other bullets should be more descriptive.  Use those accomplishment statements to help employers understand your contributions.

Extraneous sections/information

I have recently been recommending deletions of sections entitled: References available upon request, Hobbies, Skills/Professional Summary, etc. when reviewing the resumes of friends and family.  I’ll address each one of these examples separately.

blah_blah_speech bubbles

An employer will ask for your references when he/she wants them, likely once you formally express interest or apply for the job. It is implied that when the time is appropriate, you will offer up the names and contact information of people who can extol your professional virtues.


For most jobs, having an Interests/Hobbies section on your resume is a turnoff.  That said, hiring managers have asked me about personal interests (e.g., blogging) in every interview for which I was a candidate, so it is worth including some of these, but I recommend being judicious about what you include and where you put them.  For example, include a section called “Additional Information” or “Community Involvement” and add items that will either spark conversation or demonstrate transferable skills.

I see a lot of professional and/or skills summaries on resumes. First of all, I would not recommend a paragraph of any kind on your resume. No employer will take the time to review it, especially if it only includes a blanket list of personal attributes like “exceptional organizational skills” or “strong communicator.” My personal opinion is that a summary like this is only useful when it a.) is specific to the job/position(s) for which you are applying and b.) highlights actual qualifications/certifications you possess that make you a more attractive job candidate (e.g., certified executive and career coach, managed teams of up to ___ direct reports).


I share all of this information with the related recommendation to speak with one or more individuals who work in your targeted field or for the organization(s) to which you are applying.  This is the best way to understand how your resume/LinkedIn profile should look from an aesthetic standpoint as well as what information you should highlight to help the employer see that you are a fit for the job.

Best of luck until next time!


This Time Next Year

After 32 years of living with my family, I have finally learned how to manage a successful trip home:

Formula for a pleasant trip home...
1. Drink at least one adult beverage per day, beginning as early in the day as possible. After procuring sufficiently healthy and organic provisions at Whole Foods, I said "wait I need wine and champagne!" My husband cocked his head to the size in confusion at the checkout and then replied, "Oh. I forgot, we're in Ohio now."
2. Stay at a hotel. Fortunately my husband is a consultant and amasses hotel points easily. Being able to come and go and have a mini gym onsite was more important than I initially realized.
3. Do not (if at all possible) travel home when relatives are hosting a large event.  This year we visited the week before Christmas in order to use miles, but serendipitously realized that it is better to forgo the gift exchange and herds of extended family for a few peaceful days with the immediate family.

Formula for satisfaction on the job

Fortunately, it only took one year in my current job (recently hit my one year anniversary) to put my finger on some criteria that could lead to vocational happiness. This may not be the same for you as if is for me, but I thought I'd share my own personal bulleted list anyway.

  1. Carve out time each week for things you like to do and things you are good at.,i.e., using your motivated skills. It seems so simple, but it is so easy to get bogged down with tasks that need to be accomplished yet are mentally taxing (i.e., burnout skills).  My strongest motivated skill is unquestionably coaching, but more simply put - helping others. When I feel like I'm making a difference in someone's work or life, I am on cloud nine. Poring over spreadsheets and reports de-energizes me, so I try to minimize the time I spend there and do it at home with my music and sweatpants on!
  2. Ask for help before you need a life preserver. I learned that others view me as a relatively confident individual and that confidence often translates to competence in their minds. In a new job we often have to "fake it until we make it," which makes it imperative to actively seek out the support and coaching we need. I have to strike a balance between acting the part and disclosing my strengths and growth areas, but after a few small wins I feel more comfortable sharing my skill gaps with others. Fortunately helping others to minimize those gaps is a key function of my role, so at least in the words of Kouzes and Pozner in Leadership Challenge, I am "Modeling the Way."
  3. Know your next step. Keep reading...

I'd like to focus a little more on number three, which is perhaps the most nebulous of my three key learnings: why it is important to have an exit strategy.  My organization recently reduced its workforce during which a number of individuals approached me to solicit advice on their networking and personal branding efforts. Fortunately, many of these folks had done an excellent job maintaining their network across the organization and were able to tap into some warm leads with the hope of finding something internally. Others had already been networking outside the organization to identify other corporate positions or consulting opportunities.  In fact, in the best cases, these individuals had already developed business plans and identified potential partners so that they were well positioned to just execute upon their departure. However, and not surprisingly, I was also solicited for help by another group - those who had already departed and asked "can you help me find a job" or "can you share your network with me so I can find a job?" I could write multiple blog entries on the aforementioned "help me get a job" population, but my point in offering this anecdotal information is to stress the importance of having an exit strategy.

Holiday Homework

Many of you have this week off from work. While your mind is clear, set aside a few hours of uninterrupted time with some blank paper and your writing/coloring utensils of choice. Think about what you would do professionally or from an avocational standpoint if you didn't need the money. Let your mind wander and get the ideas on paper. Now, get out a new piece of paper and transfer the items from the previous list that would allow you to earn an income. Get a highlighter or a different color pen/marker/crayon. Circle the ones you would consider doing if your job disappeared sometime in the next year. Prioritize the top three items on the list. Now, write down 3-5 action steps (sequentially or non-sequentially) that you could take to make those three ideas a reality. Don't worry about the roadblocks right now (e.g., funds, technology skills, contacts, etc.) . Just write down the action steps.  Put it away for 48 hours so that you can let it sink in. Then, revisit the list with a trusted friend or family member who can help you fine tune and narrow the list down to 1-2 ideas you could pursue.  By New Years Day you could already have your exit strategy mapped out so that if/when it's time to move, you are ready.  Whether you are ready to say "peace out" to your job or you are blissfully happy, having a plan for what's next if freeing and can provide you with a serious confidence boost!

What does your bulleted list look like?