6 questions that I ask professional career coaches

Where were you the day Lehman’s crashed?

I had spent a long day sequestered in an office building in London. Coming out into the dark evening, I was surprised to see a serious story in the free newspapers handed out at the entrances to the Tubes.

The 158 year old bank, Lehmans had declared bankruptcy and 10 000 financiers, bankers, clerks and support workers who arrived at work on the prestigious Canary Wharf were told they must cease trading and clean out their desks.

Our response to abrupt crisis

Abruptly losing your job and your livelihood is not a disaster but it is certainly a crisis. Some of Lehman’s employees may have taken the first plane out to a sunny beach, but most of them would have sat around the next day wondering what to do. The day after would have been a day of rumination. What went wrong? Could it have been avoided? Who is to blame? And, ultimately, what should they do to retain the same income, status and meaning in life.

Career coaches and people in career crisis

Many career coaches will see erstwhile employees from Lehman’s and may have seen some already.

Proxy career coaches in the form of doctors, bank managers and employment agents will see them sooner. What is the best advice that we can give Lehman employees and all others whose way of life comes to an abrupt, surprising and juddering stop?

What it feels like to be in a career crisis

The first thing we need to remember is being laid off is a rude shock. Having had no preparation for the event,

  • Ex-employees do not know what to do
  • Ex-employees panic
  • Ex-employees want it to be ‘all OK right now!’

Our task as career coach

Ex-employees may have no experience or training in damage control. They may be have no experience in managing their own emotions and attention. This is our task if we are to help them succeed. We must help them to

  • Regain emotional equilibrium
  • See the solution
  • Regain control

What we will achieve as a career coach

We are not, though, going to make it “all OK right now”. Our clients will want us too.

A year ago when Lehman’s crashed, even the pundits thought we might spring back to normal like a new elastic band.  But, for most people, the early teens of the 21st century will be a time of enormous transition. A country with a GDP of 1.4tr cannot dole out 1.0tr without having to make some adjustment.

Yet there is a flip side to a bad situation.  When your house has burnt down so to speak, there is little point in building one that is exactly like the one before. We build a better one.

Our challenge as a career coach

In the early stages, when our clients want everything to be OK, when they are in the first of the five stages of grief – denial – they will not want to work through the long hard slog of rebuilding.  They will want everything to be bounce back. We have to work with them even though they are in no mood to work.

Helping them find any foothold as they work through their grief is important. Listen to them. But also help them keep moving. They have a lot of rebuilding to do and every small step will be important when they emerge from the emotional turmoil further along the line.

The career coaches that we need

Coaches who can do more than say “aha” are needed now. We need coaches who can help people take baby steps while they are overcome with emotion.

6 questions I ask professional career coaches

It is amazing that this is not taught on work psychology degree programmes.  These are the first 6 questions that I ask professional career coaches.

  • How do we work with people overcome by grief?
  • What practical steps can any of us take when our career and life has fallen into an untidy heap?
  • How long does it take to rebuild a career mid-stream?
  • How soon can we introduce the idea of rebuilding a better career to a client overcome by grief?
  • How many people really do rebuild a better career after such a disruption?
  • What distinguishes those who begin that project from those who don’t?

The most important choice in your life: Are you big enough to step into your own dreams?

What do you really want to do in life?

Whenever you go near a positive career coach, they are going to ask you what you really want to do in life.

Guess what?

You are going to list excuses. Because if you were off following your dreams, you wouldn’t be talking to a career coach!!

Are you normally a wuss given to excuse making?

Probably not.  If you were, you wouldn’t be spending good money on a career coach.  And we will charge you a lot, just to make sure you are not!

What is holding you up?

So you paid your money, and you know you are up some sort of psychological cul-de-sac and you are making excuses.  What the **** is going on?

For a start, you are behaving normally.

We all have moments when we wake up and are confused about our purpose in life. Typically, this happens when we have been intensely busy.  While we had our heads down attending to detail, we took our eye off the bigger picture.

We are also shy.

It is normal to keep our dreams a little hidden, even from ourselves. We fear success. We are terrified of getting what we want because at that point, we are exposed.  What if it turns out to be a disappointment?  What if we won’t be who we thought we would be?

Making the most important choice in your life

When you go to see a career coach, that is the choice you are making.  You want to know whether you are big enough to step into your own dreams.

Well you won’t know until you try!

Here are five know facts about positive careers that I have rewritten from another blog.  It is a good example of positive career coaching.

#1 You won’t find what you love until you take the time to imagine it and draw it in exacting detail

#2 You won’t move forward until you can name and imagine your fears in excrutiating detail

#3 You’ll become purposefully efficient when you work on actions that move you forward and decisively put aside actions that don’t move you in the direction you value so deeply

#4 You plan will appear not to work until you move toward your destination which puts all other destinations aside

#5 You will get discouraged from time to time and when you do, you have two choices. If you are involved in an activity that does not take you forward, put it in your waste bin with relish and move on to something that does!  If the activity has proved to be an obstacle that you must move through and over to reach your destination, get on with it!

Writing the perfect job description is  #1.

  • Take your job description and rewrite it to match your dream job.  Put in your job title.   Write down who you report to and who reports to you.  Do the whole shooting match.
  • Now review your daily activities and remove what does not take you towards your dream (if you can).  Leave what takes your forward and what you do for love and fun.
  • Get moving!
  • Now do #2.  Imagine your fears in excruciating detail.  Imagine the villain to your hero as sympathetically as you imagine yourself. Let the story of you life unfold!
  • And when you are discouraged, take a walk in the park, get over the immediate emotional shock, then decide.  Where does this setback fit in to your journey?  Is it an obstacle that you will enjoy conquering on the way to your perfect job?  Or is this just trash to be put aside and ignored?

Get writing that job description!

Until you have it in technicolor glory, then you will be stuck at your crossroads wondering whether you are your boss is writing the story of your life?  That is the choice you are making.

Do you have what it takes to conquer your fear of being successful?

5 questions to find the best place to be during a prolonged recession

Where is this recession going?

I’ve spent some time following economic information about the recession and I think there is a fair chance that it will be L shaped.  I think the financial shock has been so bad that it is not good enough to wait.  I think the correct analogy is that we have had an earthquake, the house has cracked, and we would be smart to attend to the foundations.  In fact, why not take advantage to ‘build a better’ house were we have a more comfortable, more sociable and more exciting life.

I think that is the project politicians should be attending to, and I think we should too.  The sooner we identify the kind of “house” we want to live in, the sooner they can get on with organizing it!

Where do we find exciting opportunities during a prolonged recession?

As a psychologist, I listen out for the way people describe things. I look to the structure of their statements to identify what really excites them, what is going somewhere and where there is room for other people.

#1  Does the person describe action?

Do I know who is doing what, when, where and how?

#2  Is this a project that other people can join?

Do I know when and where other people can join the party?  Is the description an invitation to me and others?

#3  Is the person responsive when other people chip in?

Is the person looking for responses and did they allow time to reply to people?  Did they expect people to want to join them?

#4  Is the person curious about other people?

Does the person respond to inquiries and suggestions with requests for more information or elaboration?  Do they believe that other people can add value to their project?

#5  Through the entire conversation, does the person keep their eye on their goal?

While the person is responding to inquiries and following up, do they maintain their momentum and movement toward their goal?

Here’s my little acronym: AIRINGOAL

Action

Invitation

Responsive

Involvement

Goal

5 questions to tell whether a businesses is going somewhere

These are the 5 questions I ask to tell the difference between a business that may look thriving, and may go the same way as banks and newspapers, from business that will thrive despite the profession.

Once we have found a business that is vital and exciting, then we can ask more detailed questions about our role within it.  More on that tomorrow!

Land your dream job by knowing your industry inside-out

Career decisions for young and old

I do a lot of career coaching.  I talk to youngsters of all ability ranges. I talk to MBA student making career changes after a flying start in management.  I talk to people who’ve been unlucky enough to lose their jobs and who looking for an echo career.

Are easy when we know what we want

What all these people have in common ~ those who are happy to get work at the minimum wage and those negotiating banker-size bonuses ~ is that they will not get what they want until they decide what they want.

And tracks are laid out for us by someone else

Many of us ~ particularly the talented, able and lucky ~ go through life on a set of rails. We go from one school to another, on tracks laid down by other people, and decision making has amounted to no more than “this” or “that”.   Both are good and we chose on the basis of the frills ~ which perks were more to our taste.

When the tracks are gone, we have to lay them for selves

Then one day, shock and horror, the tracks are gone. We will have to lay them down ourselves.  Suddenly, we realize that we are “institutionalized”. We haven’t being make decisions for ourselves.  We are capable of rolling down pre-laid tracks without thought, but we are totally incapable of laying the tracks.

Smashing Magazine has a very comprehensive list for finding work

It’s a steep learning curve.  Today Smashing Magazine has a list of “do’s” for free lancers. These “do’s” are the basis for job searches as well. Print them and rate your progress at getting them right.

The trouble is that step one is deciding what you want!

I can tell you right now which steps you will find hard ~ deciding which sector you want to work in and finding out about the companies.  That’s the equivalent of laying the tracks. That is the part that you’ve never done before because you always took for granted that the tracks were there.

How to lay your own tracks

  1. Print out the article from Smashing Magazine
  2. Get a shoebox or box of similar size
  3. Keep your envelopes from junk mail
  4. Take envelopes of one color or size and every day find a website relevant to the industry that enchants you.  Read and take notes.
  5. Take envelopes of another color or size and every day find a firm in your industry that sparks your curiosity.  Read and take notes.
  6. Every month sort through. Keep the ten best firms and make notes on questions you want to answer about the industry.
  7. Also sort through and look at the people you would love to meet and learn a little about them

I can be sure that in 1-2 months of doing a little work every night, the industry will come alive.  Smashing Magazine’s list will begin to be easy.  Indeed, I strongly recommend that you start a blog.  Get a Posterous account, which is easy to manage, and start “Expeditions into the Publishing Industry”, or whatever.   In time you will be an acclaimed expert ~ and you will have got there by the first step that you took today.

Stop daydreaming about step 53 ~ take the 1st step

Indeed, if you don’t take the first step, if you keep telling me about step 7 or step 10 or step 53, then I know you are not serious.  Step 1: print out Smashing Magazine’s article. Step Two get a shoebox. Step Three get a junk mail envelope and make your first notes.

And sigh with relief that you live in days of the internet!

And stop whinging!  This is easy in the days of the internet.  Just 10 years ago, this was almost impossible to do!

You really must be in a positive mood to get the job of your dreams

Downtown Core, Singapore's business centre.
Image via Wikipedia

I am ever so grateful to Daryl Tay who blogged his successful search for a social media job in Singapore.

Now Singapore is a prosperous place.  Daryl has a good degree.   And he is an adventurous outgoing guy who instigated Social Media Breakfast while he was an under-grad.

But Social Media is new industry and Social Media firms aren’t queuing up at University Career Days looking for bright-eyed bushy-tailed students to gopher for them on a two-year graduate program.

So Daryl had to make his own job and I think the contrast between his positive attitude and the unfamiliarity of his task really put into perspective my job as a career coach, and indeed, what you must demand of your career coach.

What you want from your career coach

Your career coach’s job is to get you into a positive frame of mind.

If you are feeling bruised and sore, you cannot think even think straight. You certainly cannot be sufficiently creative to find the job of your dreams in the hurly-burly and confusion in the marketplace.

What Daryl brought home to me, is that it is not good enough for me to tell you the theory. You probably know the theory at least intuitively.

I must get you into a good mood so you can search creatively.

Read on to see if I am on the right track

Mid 2009, Singapore

Daryl Tay, social media evangelist blogged his job search that led to Blue Interactive in Singapore.  Success!  A good agency, new challenges, freedom to blog!  The perfect first job for a newly-minted graduate.

Daryl puts his success down to the generosity of the social media world.  It is a generous world for the most part.  He passed on information about a job to an acquaintance, who reciprocated in due course, without being asked.  He followed up her lead, which led in turn, not to a job, but to ten more “names”.  He followed those up, and got 3-4 interviews, one of which was with Blue.

That’s pretty good by all accounts. I saw figures somewhere that in the US you should budget for 3-4 “qualified leads” from 100 approaches.  So Daryl did 10x better than average.   A 1000% gain!  Worth paying attention to.

What led to Daryl’s success?

  1. The generous ethos of the social media world.
  2. Singapore is relatively prosperous.
  3. Singaporeans are unusually punctilious in their business dealings. They don’t waste each others time.
  4. Daryl is well known in social media circles as he is an established blogger and hosts Singapore’s Social Media Breakast.
  5. Daryl took a degree in marketing including a semester in Canada.
  6. Daryl is a nice guy.

Yes, all these are true. What is also true is that Daryl did not mind having to make his own job. Nor was he offended by the people who did not respond to his approach. Nor did he seem particularly bothered by interviews that did not lead to jobs.

Has Daryl got a thick skin? I don’t think so. He has always seemed like a sensitive, responsive person to me.

The point is he was in positive frame of mind. So, his mind went automatically to two thoughts:

  1. What could he create?
  2. What worked well and what should he do more of?

Such simple questions but try thinking that way when you are in a negative mood! It is really hard!

Working with a career coach

By the time people come to see me as a work & organizational psychologist, otherwise known as a career coach, they are pretty fed up. The job market is not what they thought and they want me to make it responsive. They want me just to make the bad stuff go away!

The general pattern of career coaching is based on career guidance of old. It has changed a little, but not enough.

We typically go through four steps.

  1. With tests or other means, we figure out who you are.
  2. We match you to opportunities in the world.
  3. We prepare you for interviews.
  4. We celebrate or commiserate with the results.

Straightforward – yes, but wrong.

Positive career coaching

While you are in a bad mood, you see all the problems.  It is nothing to do with being optimistic or pessimistic.  It is a natural reaction and the recalcitrance of the world is very real to you at that point.   So our job is to get you back into a good mood.  Then you will do the rest yourself!

  1. We have to get you thinking about what you do well (most services do that, but it is not enough)
  2. We have to get you exploring the work world and identifying 10 companies whom you think are interesting.
  3. You need to know enough about these companies to approach them.
  4. You need to approach them (preferably working down the list from 6 to 10 so you can make your mistakes on the second half of the list).
  5. It helps to keep your coach on sides to discuss the results. You will decipher the feedback quicker and they’ll help you soak up any disappointment.
  6. Go after your top 5 companies with gusto!

That’s pretty much what Daryl did, but without the recovery from a bad mood at the beginning.

Does positive career coaching work?

I’ve often tried to get people to list these 10 jobs and predictably, they do it when they are in a good mood and they won’t do it when they are in a bad mood.

In a bad mood, they just want to pick up the paper, or go on the internet, and see a list of suitable jobs.

Your coach’s job, my job, is to get you back into a sufficiently positive frame of mind so that you list those 10 companies and work out what you can do with them.

After that you will approach them with a spring in your step, laughter in your voice, and mental agility that will delight even you!

It is not easy.   After all that is what you pay us for.   To get you back into a positive frame of mind.   When you are focusing again on what does work, it all clicks together and suddenly everything happens for you.

This is not positive thinking or wishful thinking, I might add. It is painstaking work listing and acting on what works until the world seems to be full of opportunity again.

To Daryl

So well done Daryl, and thanks.  I knew all this but reading your story brought home to me that it is not career coaching that is important.

It is focusing our minds on what works, regaining the positive mood, and sticking with you during the search to keep you positive.

Your success brought that home to me.  Well done!  A lot of people will take heart from your initiative.

To everyone else

Make sure your coach delivers. It is their job to put up with your bad mood until your recover your sense of humour!

Pay them well and buy them a good meal when you get the job of your dreams.  You’ll be good company by then. 🙂

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What’s your preferred corporate culture?

Cool 2×2 on organizational culture

While tutoring some very smart undergraduates, I bumped into  very nice 2×2 model that I haven’t seen for years.  Deal & Kennedy’s model is used primarily to explain corporate culture.  It also correlates nicely with two factor personality theory – so it’s pretty useful for helping people understand their preferences for various workplaces.  It’s easy to use and remember and what’s more reading political commentary, I had an insight about competency frameworks that is quite useful.

Get drawing!

Grab a pen.  WordPress is not up for 2×2 tables.  Across the page put feedback (slow on the left and fast on the right), and down the page put risk(high at the top and low at the bottom).

Live or die in the next 20 minutes!

Top left is the fast-feedback high risk quadrant.  This is the world of surgeons, American police, City traders.  Everything happens quickly, and losses and gains can be dramatic.  This is the world of extraverted, neurotics – loud, quick, aggressive and dramatic.  Game of choice: squash! A one-one-one tussle with points scored in a fast and furious contest.

Fast but not furious

Bottom left is slow-feedback low risk quadrant.  This is the world of the factory, the retail bank and even the supermarket cashier.  Good or bad, feedback is quick but no one event is of great consequence.  This is still the world of the extravert.  Sociable people are at a premium provided they are amiable and easily content.  Indeed, they wouldn’t know what to do with aggression.  Game of choice: soccer.  Great teamwork that goes on for an hour-and-a-half with only one or two goals.

Leave it with me

Bottom right is slow-feedback low risk quadrant.  This is the world of very low skilled or very high skilled.  The work is deceptively simple.  Take an accountant.   A piece of paper is processed and there is no sense of the world changing.   A better example is a lawyer who writes your will.  You rely entirely on it being correct when it is inspected many, many years later by other lawyers.   The essence of this work is this long delay and ability to do fine work with no feedback.  This is the world of stable, unemotional introverts.  Game of choice : jogging.  One foot after another!

He’s my brother, he ain’t heavy

Top right is slow-feedback high risk quadrant.  This is the world of civil engineers putting up buildings  which will only show that nasty shortcut many years later.  It is also the world of educators – all those hours put in to person who may or may not make good.  This is the world of neurotic introverts.  A mark of people in this quadrant is other people take them to be a fool and abuse their good will.  They are also prone to feeling disappointed with the world.  Game of choice: golf.  You can lose it all on the last hole.

So what is my observation for leadership competencies?

Generally, the most obvious leader is someone who is extraverted and unanxious.  Leaders like quick feedback and are neither too prone to hi risk (likely to be quick tempered) or too prone to lo risk (too amiable and unable to hold the line).

Listening to the commentary on political candidates, I suspect that this rule-of-thumb holds in the lower levels of leadership (Lieutenant to Colonel).  At higher levels, the willingness to reserve judgement and wait to see how events unfold might also be important.

Any thoughts?  What is your preferred culture?

UPDATE:  Anyone from any quadrant can lead and be a good politician. Generally though, we will be happy in our basic trade depending on its match with our personality.    We will also learn to use all quadrants with practice, though under pressure, we are likely to revert to our preferred choice.

Knowing your preferences helps you understand why you dislike some tasks and how you can recraft them to make them more comfortable. It also helps you understand other people’s styles.

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