Archive for March, 2008

Chatting with a scientist: career insight for kids

March 30, 2008

For some children, career information is most accessible when it comes through a story. On the NIH website, at the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there is an interview with Dr. Marta Fiorotta, PhD, a Growth Biologist. Dr. Fiorotto answers questions about how she got interested in infant and child nutrition. She also offers advice to kids about maintaining their curiosity and a sense of connectedness to their world and the planet. You can read the whole interview by going to http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/baylor/riff4.htm.

Your children are learning about their options in the work world from the people around them. If you don’t know a scientist, here is an opportunity to meet one through a short interview. Dr. Fiorotta speaks clearly about her background, her upbringing, the motivation she brings to her work, and gives straightforward advice to young readers, particularly those between 8 and 12 years of age.

There is much fascinating material for children on federal government websites. Almost all of them feature a for kids section with games, puzzles, interviews, or other forms of information. While children are happily surfing the web, you can guide them into some fun, useful resources.

Many adults feel that they did not have enough information to make an appropriate career decision as adolescents. If you would like to talk about your options with a career counselor, please visit my website at www.anneheadley.com for contact information.

Kids’ Career Planning: start now!

March 27, 2008

From the time we give our children fire trucks, ballet shoes, nurse or doctor kits, camouflage back-packs, paint sets, challenging books, or superhero lunch boxes, we are giving them career messages. Play-acting is fun and a vital part of career development, and our society knows how to do this. But what do you do when real information is needed?

It seems to parents that career information for kids is lacking. With all the test pressures at school, it is not surprising that guidance departments do not have the time or resources to present career information in as much depth as they would like.
So, what is a parent/adviser/counselor/youth minister/scout leader/grandparent/neighbor to do to help the young people you care about?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a wonderful resource with current information in an easily-accessible format. Go to www.bls.gov/k12/index.htm. Here you will find facts, suggestions for further research, and definitions for the budding architect, physicist, musician or nurse. From accountant to zookeeper, you can learn whether this is an area you would like to explore.
Information for each job is organized by the following sections:

  • What is this job like?
  • How do you get ready?
  • How much does this job pay?
  • How many jobs are there? | What about the future?
  • Are there other jobs like this?
  • Where can you find more information?

You will be able to teach your young person how to do basic career research on the internet. And you will wish someone had pointed out this resource to you years ago.
Want to talk to a career counselor? You might wish to be a 14-year-old again, ask some basic questions, start at the beginning to plan the rest of your career (or your retirement!). Or you may wish to have your young person speak to someone who can affirm his/her interests, administer a simple career interest inventory, and suggest opportunities for further exploration. Go to www.anneheadley.com to make an appointment with a career counselor.

Customer Service: it matters!

March 25, 2008

I just returned from a vacation in France, filled with humble insights gained from being a customer and a foreigner. Although I speak French, it is obvious that I’m not a native – my words and grammar are simple, and my vocabulary was acquired decades ago. But I got by. Here are treasured examples of excellent customer service:

  • I absolutely thrived on the very occasional compliment (You are American? Your French is wonderful.)
  • I was so charmed when a manager of a small shop in Arles helped me choose the right size tablecloth that I bought the matching napkins and a t-shirt besides. I told him I was looking for a Christmas ornament from Provence and he went into a storage closet and found a basket full of them. Of course, I bought one.
  • And in a small hotel in Paris, a front desk person actually called my husband and me by our names. That was shocking and refreshing – the first time in three weeks someone had bothered. She answered our questions about the neighborhood, the hotel history, and options for getting to the airport in the face of a transportation strike. Then the hotel booking service sent a questionnaire soliciting feedback on our stay with them. I was delighted to give them a great report.

What did I learn from this?

  • I learned that making the effort to show a tourist the metro stop creates a happy memory for both parties.
  • I learned that a non-native English speaker will really appreciate your speaking slowly when you answer a question. Not louder, just slower.
  • I learned that connecting with a stranger may be the most useful thing I did that day.

The job implications are large. In today’s world, we encounter citizens of other countries on almost a daily basis. They form opinions of our nation based on the people they meet, and that means you and me. And in your next job interview, someone is going to ask you how you relate to people for whom English is a second or third language. Start now to collect some anecdotes for your answer. If you would like to practice relating some anecdotes for an upcoming interview, feel free to contact me through my website at www.anneheadley.com.

Job Satisfaction: how is it measured?

March 22, 2008

Patrick Lencioni has identified the word immeasurement as the third characteristic of a miserable job. It’s an unwieldy word that can contribute to burn-out if not headed off. He defines immeasurement as the inability to gauge one’s performance and progress. Does your job have agreed-upon standards, or does someone just arbitrarily decide if you are doing a good job?

Many people have experienced an explosion of job responsibilities in recent years. When someone resigns, his/her work is often re-distributed among co-workers. So it is not reasonable to expect one’s standards and workload to remain the same. It is reasonable (and effective) to have one’s responsibilities clearly spelled out.

  • How are you doing on your job?
  • What is a great performance?
  • What is an adequate performance?
  • What is a poor performance for you?

Happy is the worker who knows the answer. If you are a person who knows what measurements are in place to assess your performance, you know what your professional goals are and you know what you need to do to reach them.

Again, congratulations to Patrick Lencioni for The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. I believe he has helped many, many readers clarify their malaise. The author has conveyed these signs clearly and powerfully by storytelling rather than dry management theory. The misery factors (anonymity, relevance, and immeasurement) are clear. Think about your situation. If you realize that you are truly in a miserable job, it is time to do something about it! Please visit my complete book review of Lencioni’s work on www.anneheadley.com/bookreviewsslinks.nx. Then make an appointment with a career counselor to discuss your situation!

Job Satisfaction: relevance

March 20, 2008

• Continuing with the discussion of Patrick Lencioni’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, I learned that the second significant element of job satisfaction is relevance. Does your job count? Do your daily tasks matter?

  • I don’t know
  • Matter to whom?
  • Are you kidding?

Maybe no one has mentioned it recently. People who know their work has merit are inclined to be happier and stay longer on the job.
Maybe the world doesn’t applaud when you show up, or file the forms, or perform the safety check. But it surely would be nice (and motivating) if your boss said, “You make this place safer (brighter, happier, more up-to-date, in compliance with the law, fun)”.
So no one is saying it where you work? Try it yourself. Start a feedback revolution.

Read the complete review of Lencioni’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job on my website, http://www.anneheadley.com. And then think about your own job situation. Do you and other people acknowledge the relevance of what you do?

Job Satisfaction: getting recognized

March 18, 2008

I’ve been reading a book with the catchy title The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. The book is readable, entertaining, and highly enlightening. In this posting and the two that will follow, I will summarize key points of the book. You will learn that it’s not the objective position itself, but rather the way workers are treated, that determine if the job is miserable. Lencioni has identified three factors that contribute to this misery.
The first trait is anonymity. By this, the author means whether or not your work is recognized and acknowledged by others. Is your name on it? Is credit given in meetings when discussing the work? Does anyone thank you? If not, you are on your way to misery on the job.
Notice that preventing this trait costs no money at all. It takes a bit of time and thoughtfulness, but eliminating anonymity can add greatly to one’s satisfaction and commitment to the job.

Doesn’t this have something to do with customer service? Yes, it does. If you are a manager, please read this book and start making changes. You will be surprised at what can happen. If you treat the people of your team with respect, beginning with credit for their contributions, you might see a ripple of appreciation spread throughout your organization and into the world of your external customers.

If you are not a manager, start acknowledging the efforts and contributions of your co-workers. You might be the only one who is doing it, and a revolution in appreciation could break out! Sometimes effective management really does boil down to the golden rule. You can read the entire review at www.anneheadley.com/bookreviews&links.nxg.

The Job Search after a Crisis

March 14, 2008

Once again, the headlines are filled with a scandal and its personalities. The late night monologues have new material. Conversations all around the country ponder how intelligent, educated people get caught up in career-breaking activities. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigns and Ashley Dupre is no longer known simply as Kristen. How can these individuals move on?

As a career counselor, I find that such people may be motivated to act quickly and decisively, but not wisely. I hope that people surrounding the key players in this week’s story will caution them to slow down, heal from the shock, repair their personal relationships, and plant their feet firmly on the ground before making decisions about work.

Any significant life experience changes us. We are tested in new ways, forced to face truths we would prefer to hide, analyzed by strangers and friends alike, and shaped into new beings.

Eventually, today with all its pain becomes tomorrow with its promise. And it is then that one can become analytical, objective, and truly open to possibilities. One can look anew at one’s life, its high and low points, and identify skills which will point the way to the next steps.

Assessment can be useful at this point. Whether personality assessments (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) or career interest tests (such as the Strong Interest Inventory or the Self-Directed Search), they can explain behavior and choices, identify new areas to explore, and highlight new areas of growth and change. If these assessments are rushed because the individual doesn’t want to be in limbo long enough to heal, the results will be disappointing and inaccurate. They need to be taken when a person is calm and able to think objectively.

A crisis is survivable. Many people say that life eventually improves after a bad situation. People can get in touch with their original goals and values. A once-successful attorney can remember what he wanted in the first place. An aspiring singer can get back on the challenging path she chose before being caught up in illegal behavior. They can survive humiliation, ridicule and rejection. They can become more truly themselves.

Have you survived a crisis? Even if you were not in the headlines world-wide, you may have been caught up in trouble in your own workplace. You may have been embarrassed, exposed, and pressured to leave a job. Have you made the most of your recovery/rebirth? Are you ready to analyze your situation and take the next steps? Would you like to talk about it with a career counselor? If so, please visit www.anneheadley.com to be in touch.

When Criticism Hurts Too Much

March 12, 2008

Few people expect perfection from co-workers and customers. But sometimes we get feedback that feels devastating. It can wound us, make us unable to respond, even make us question our career path. Why do we sometimes react so strongly?
One explanation is that the critical voice reminds us of judgment we experienced long ago, by someone who mattered very much. The tone of voice, the harsh words used, the insensitivity of the moment may bring back earlier hurts. Naturally, we react accordingly.
But I think there is another explanation. People are simply different – different in the way they communicate, in the way they hear each other, in what they want or need from us. And when we are doing business with people who are very different, hurt feelings can happen easily.
Example: Janet is a person who prides herself on working independently. She asks for help when needed, structures her day, and gets into the task at hand. How is she to know that John is a person who thrives on hearing details, having long, chatty conversations about what is going on, and evaluating options? When Janet doesn’t call during the day, he gets more and more impatient, he worries that something has gone wrong, and works himself into anger at her silence. Meanwhile, Janet is perfecting her plan and finally places a call to John. Imagine her surprise and hurt when he unloads his frustration on her. He waited all day for her! He has some questions! And there’s been a change which she needs to know about. The ensuing conversation is a disaster.
Career counseling can educate Janet on other ways of looking at this dilemma. She needs to understand that her need for privacy and her independent ways may not be very satisfactory for her extroverted customer. Neither side is right or wrong, but both need a bit more information in order to work harmoniously. With coaching, Janet can learn to give more information. She can let her customer or colleague in on her need for concentration. And she can recognize the other person’s need for updates and inclusion.
The payoffs are large. When you learn to recognize ways that your personal/professional style are irritating or confusing to other people, you can learn to modify a bit, or at least communicate your next steps in order to avoid misunderstanding. And no, these differences are not reasons to change jobs or careers: you’ll just find similar conflicts in the next job!

Would you like to learn more about your communication style and how it impacts on your colleagues or customers? You can contact me through my website: www.anneheadley.com to discuss it.

Job interviews: how have you failed?

March 10, 2008

Do you go into interviews with fingers crossed that they won’t ask you about … (insert your worst work experience here)?

If you are selling yourself as a person with experience, you should not claim that you have not failed. No one will believe you and the conversation will stall. How can you discuss your failures?
Examples might be:

  • I failed to get a position I thought I really wanted.
  • I have sometimes failed to achieve balance in my life because I used to get overwhelmed by stress.
  • I once failed to understand the needs of my boss that were largely unspoken.
  • I have not always been patient with people I see as time-wasters.

Any of these sentences should not stand alone, but should be a launch into how you lost your focus and then regained it. Failure can lead the way to acquiring a new skill, brushing up on an old one, or developing your people skills. Show yourself to be a work in progress. Add these thoughts to your failure statements:

  • My goals were not so clearly defined as they are now
  • I have learned how to set limits
  • I’ve learned to ask for clarification
  • I’ve learned to be more tolerant of other people.

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently – Henry Ford
If you need to practice your explanation on a career failure before you go on an interview, please contact me through www.anneheadley.com. Together we can brainstorm your options for telling the story truthfully and professionally. Your future is at stake.

Job interviews: you never thought of this!

March 7, 2008

Did you ever notice that many job openings include the phrase ability to read and write a must? Did you ever imagine that you’d be put to the test on this point?

Many of us take the ability to read and write for granted. We assume that since we have received at least minimal education, we should not have to prove our literacy. This may be a false assumption.

I recently found that at least one interviewer at the Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission takes this very seriously. If you apply at the MNCPPC, you may be given a passage to read and a brief writing assignment – nothing complicated, just enough to prove you are competent in written communication.

Stephanie Neal, a long-time supervisor there, says she does not want to hear about how you forgot your reading glasses. She concludes from this that (if it is true) you are forgetful or (if it isn’t true) you are hiding something. In either case, you are out of consideration.

Ms. Neal also suggests that you tuck a small pocket dictionary in your portfolio, briefcase, or purse. In case you are challenged in spelling, particularly under stressful conditions, here’s an excellent tool to use if you need to and (by the way) look like a careful writer.

Lots of people have tips on interviews, but the ideas on glasses and a dictionary are new ones to me.

What are your favorite survival techniques for job interviews?

If you would like to confer with a career counselor about any interview situation you have encountered and wish you had handled differently, please visit www.anneheadley.com for contact information.