Myth creating that hurts careers

Ozan Varol wrote these words about myths:

We’re eager to believe myths in part because they appeal to our emotions. Given a story and a mountain of data, the story prevails. Stories resonate. Stories sell. These mentally vivid images strike a deep, lasting chord, known as the narrative fallacy. We remember what so-and-so told us about how his male-pattern baldness was caused by too much time in the sun. We fall for the story, throwing logic and skepticism to the wind. . .

Myths persist also because they fill the gaps in our understanding. They create order out of chaos, clarity out of complexity, and a cause-and-effect relationship out of blind luck. Your child exhibits signs of autism? Blame it on that vaccine he got two weeks ago. You spotted a human face on Mars? Obviously the elaborate work of an ancient civilization that, coincidentally, also helped the Egyptians build the pyramids of Giza.

What I am most interested in are the myths we tend to create about ourselves. Because those myths often:

  • Hold us back
  • Act as excuses for inaction
  • Delude us into an alley or a series of closed doors

Among the words defining a myth are these: “A story . . .with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation” and “an invented story, idea or concept”. We enjoy stories. They bring order sometimes. They feel like they “explain” things to us. They appeal to our emotions. But creating your own myths that limit your career are a horror story. They may not be based on facts. That may be invented to justify a situation

Myths in Careers

“I am a specific job title” (insert a job title like banker, project manager, programmer). Those are simply job titles you hold or held. Many people “end up” in a job that they never really consciously decided they wanted to be in, but the pay and benefits were good (at the time). Just because you spent a lot of time doing a particular job does not mean that is who you are.

We all suffer from the “I could never do” and the “I am not good at” myths. Confession: I always say “I am not a good salesperson”. Well, guess what. I have my own business. If I cannot “sell” myself, I have no business! So I might not be a good conventional salesperson, but I need to sell. Perpetuating the self-created myth that “I cannot” does me know good. It inhibits my progress. It’s the same as the person who says, “I could never change jobs”. Why not?

Another common one is the myth about our circumstances. We can point to our current situation make it like a stake in the ground that a leash it tied to. We can only go as far as the leash (or our myth) allows us. That may be true, but who decided where the stake is and how long the leash is?

One more myth is “the expert knows best, I should not question them”. It may be true that someone knows something more about a subject than you do. In general. But they might not know all of the circumstances specific to you. Ever looked at the statistics about how accurate people are in predicting events? Not very good. If the “expert”, the hiring manager or the HR person, did not select you for a job, you create a myth that you must not be qualified or worthy. Acquiescence or “giving in” to an expert only holds you back. Perhaps the expert created their own myth about you!

I like what Varzol had to say about recognizing and overcoming these myths:

The search for certainty over uncertainty, the preference for stories over data, these are human tendencies that help us make sense of the world. But they also lead us astray. The antidote is also human: tapping into our ability to question and doubt everything from emotional appeals to confident political claims. It’s only through the relentless exercise of our critical-thinking muscles that myths and misinformation can be exposed for what they are.

I cannot say it any better. Consider the source of your myths – you! Be analytical and critical. If you need some help, enlist a friend or a coach to be your myth buster.

To read Varzol’s entire post, go here https://ozanvarol.com/how-myths-spread/

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Underestimating Others

The speaker had a voice that sounded like a professor lecturing in college. The material he was talking about seemed to be “out of my interest zone” so I dismissed it. I was attending the meeting on behalf of someone else, so I was not personally invested in the speaker. I was thinking about other things I needed to do. I “missed” his presentation. I underestimated the potential impact what he said could have on me.

I regretted that attitude when I heard the testimonials from other meeting attendees. “I worked with ‘Dave’ and it made a great difference.” “I don’t exactly know what you do, but I can attest to its effectiveness. “Your process made a huge difference in my life and in my working ability”. At least half the people in the room (about 20 people) had worked with this speaker and had glowing, no, make that life-changing, impacts.

And I missed it because I underestimated him.

As was the case with this speaker, I often underestimate other people. They come across as narrow. Their story seems to be simple. Perhaps their appeal is directed at others, not me. Maybe they say something I find dumb or insulting or narrow-minded. Ashamedly, it may be the way they talk, the way they are dressed or some other shallow reason. It could be that they talk longer than I wanted them to. I write them off. It is very easy to place the blame on the other person.

But usually, it is all about me. I am underestimating them based on a quick observation or conclusion I draw. I am not listening. To listen, you have to be present. To listen, you have to hear the other person speak. To listen, you need to engage with the other person. To listen, you have to get past the little voice in your head that tries to pull you anywhere but where you are right now. Sometimes, that is too much to ask.

But that does not mean you don’t try to do better.

I recently watched the movie about the TV personality Mr. Rogers called “Won’t you be my neighbor?”. I am amazed at how little I knew about him and how clueless I was about his mission. I never watched the TV show, nor am I aware of my kids ever watching it. His soft-spoken, child-like voice could be annoying at times (you can see many YouTube videos mocking his style). I was probably too busy with education and building a life for myself to pay attention. And to be honest, I probably thought his message was a little “sappy” – let’s be neighbors, you are special and who you are is okay.

But maybe if I paused for a moment back then, I would have learned something.

Little did I know about his ground-breaking work in addressing many tough issues with children – divorce, assassination, death, and disability. He tried to make those issues less frightening. While he was a preacher by training, he wasn’t trying to preach. His goal was to help children understand themselves and the complex, crazy world they lived in.  He wanted children to know they could be loved. Sounds like a pretty noble cause to me.

And I ignored it.

I heartfully recommend the movie. I think you will learn a few things. Maybe it will get you to reflect a little more about yourself and today’s divided world in a slightly different way.

More importantly, take some time to consider someone you might be underestimating. It could be a family member, neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance or a national figure. Have you really given them a chance? Do you really listen to them? What is driving you to underestimate them?

“The Principles of Adult Behavior”

I ran into this list the other day by the poet and essayist John Perry Barlow. I find it interesting when someone takes a profound part of life and distills it down to something simple, like a list. Now that is not to say that this is a definitive list (“Live these and you will be a success”). Nor does it mean the writer has all of the right wisdom. But I do like how it challenges me to think about myself and what is important. Plus, I am always wondering if I am behaving like an adult!

I have copied the list at the end of this post. But there are a few of principles that got me thinking.

#3 – Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

I meet people and observe people all of the time that make me wonder what they are doing. How can they possible think or act that way? Of course “that way” is very different from my way of thinking. I am prone to making assumptions about people all of the time. One way I do this is that I like to categorize people pretty quickly. Being a person who thrives on efficiency, it make sense that I put people into a convenient space. I also want to quickly eliminate those people who I don’t want to spend my time on. The “braggart”? Must have an inflated sense of self. The “fanatic”. Oh, they will never see the other side. The “talker”. They won’t shut up!

But is my nobility better than theirs? Perhaps they have a story to tell that explains how they come across initially. Maybe my frame of reference is distorted, not their personality. Perhaps what I am (selectively) hearing is only a part of the whole story. Don’t I have my bad days? It may be that they are having one of their bad days. I have such a long way to go on this one.

#10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

I am really working on living this one more every day. I recognize my experiences, talents and perspectives are unique to me. Being right is a fundamental part of our ego. So to admit being wrong a lot of the time is really hard on our minds. When I am “certain” about something, it is even harder to shift my thinking. Don’t buy that? Consider someone of a different religion or political persuasion. If they are so different from you, someone has to be wrong. And by “someone”, I must mean the other person!

I know that I am quick to point out to others that they might be wrong. I can see the other person’s flawed thinking, so they must be missing it.

I need to give that up. It is not my world where everyone has to follow my thinking.  It might possibly be true that the other person’s certainty is built on false premises, lack of knowledge or a whole lot of biases. So might my thinking. How do I know I am not wrong about them? That’s a tough one to deal with.

# 18. Admit your errors freely and soon

I am getting so much better at this one. People are so busy anymore, it is easy to not tell them I made an error (“maybe they won’t notice”). I find expressing my vulnerability makes me human in the eyes of most people. The other day, I sent an e-mail to “Todd” but addressed it as “Dear Mike”. After I sent the e-mail, I noticed my error and immediately sent another e-mail apologizing. He got back to me pretty quickly and said “no problem. But by the way, you sent the wrong attachment, too.”

Admitting errors reflects flaws. It also reflects humanity. The ability to notice and admit to an error leads to learning. Some people may see it as an admission of weakness and try to take advantage of it. So be it. Who are you trying to better? Yourself or the other person?

So, what do you think about you? Which items on this list jump out to you? Any of them you would like to improve on?

Here is the list:

John Perry Barlow wrote the Principle of Adult Behavior as standard code of conduct when he was 30 years old.
1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
25. Endure.

Try Listening in an Interview

How do most people prepare when they are going to be interviewed?

Most people will tell you they do this at least:

  • Research the company
  • Try to find out information on the hiring manager
  • Look for people who they can connect with who work there or have worked there
  • Prepare answers to commonly-asked questions

Notice that “listening” is nowhere on that list

According to author Tom Peters:

“I. . . found a wonderful book from the former U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, [where he writes,] “The best way to persuade someone is with your ears.” And it makes perfect sense. All this [academic] literature says, “The reason that 9 out of 10 sales calls fail is because the salesperson talks instead of listens.”

(I) picked up Richard Branson’s management book. The entire first section, 150 pages, is called “Listening.”On the science side, it is inherently, deeply rewarding to be listened to. It sparks all sorts of feelings of pleasure and self-respect that we know make an enormous difference to people’s ability to think clearly. It lowers people’s stress levels, and we think better when we’re not stressed.

That got me thinking. What if we prepared ourselves in an interview to really listen? What difference might it make?

  • Maybe we hear the full question (not the question we thought they were going to ask)
  • Maybe we truly read the concern or doubt about us that the other person has (so we can address it)
  • Maybe we hear what they REALLY said, not what we think we heard them say (“they said I was perfect for the job”)
  • Maybe we make the other person feel better because we listened to them (that might make you stand out)
  • Maybe we learn something from the other person’s voice or non-verbals or the words they choose to use that provide us with deeper insight (so we can be more understanding)

Does listening require a totally different approach? Yes and no.

No.

You still need to learn about the company and the position. You must have your stories in place that highlight your accomplishments and results. Your responses need to relate how your experience fits this position. Asking good questions of the interviewer is necessary. You still need to show up on time, be on your best and thank people. So, in many ways, your approach is the same.

Yes.

You have to go into the interview with a different mindset if you are truly going to listen. You have to focus on the other person, totally. This is different than multitasking (hearing the question, divining what they really are asking and sorting through all of your possible answers) while listening. You have to practice listening, not just practice saying your answers out loud.

According to research on the subject, when we have to prepare to speak, we miss nine seconds of the prior person’s words. This leads us to miss real-time information that may be critical to their point (or question in the case of an interviewer).

How do you prepare to listen?

Ask for clarification (You asked me this, could you explain more what you are looking for?)

Practice repeating what you heard the person say to ensure that you heard them correctly (“Let me make sure I understand what you asked . . .”)

Slow down.

Be more comfortable with pauses before you answer the question. We are often uncomfortable with any silence in a conversation. But listening, and then giving your answer, might mean there will be a pause in the conversation.

Consider this

In the end, you are trying to be memorable in an interview. The interviewee who listens will be memorable for a number of reasons. The person who answers the questions clearly will be memorable. Think about when you ask someone a question and their reply does not answer the question. Don’t you find that frustrating? That kind of memorable is not good! Your active listening fosters a trues communication, with a clearer exchange of information. Why not give that a try?

 

Networking, Advice and AIR

In a recent article, I read this:

Networking is not asking for a job or a job lead. Networking is about getting AIR. Networking can rejuvenate how you feel about your job or your job search the same way oxygen reenergizes your body. AIR is an acronym that stands for:
Advice (career advancement, job search, career-changing)
Information (company, industry trends, news)
Recommendations (associations to join, books to read, skills to develop, people to talk to)

I like the general idea. The metaphor of networking being like oxygen that rejuvenates a job search is good. We all need to think about how networking can get us going onto a new path. Sometimes our job search needs a kick start. Other times it just needs a slightly new direction. Sometimes just meeting someone new can change our day or week enough to make it more positive.

I also like the “I = information” and “R = recommendations” part. I believe if you take an approach that networking is more than asking for a job, you have expanded your thinking. There are a lot of items we need to learn about – what are some companies that are hiring? What are good companies to work for? What is a skill I need and how might I go about getting it? So the “Information” piece and the “recommendations” piece are good.

But I hesitate on the “A = advice” piece.

Should you really be looking for advice in a networking discussion?

Advice is cheap. Everyone likes to give it. Everyone feels like they are doing a good deed when they give it. Advice can sound helpful. But most people give advice from their perspective, skills, interests and experiences. That will certainly NOT match your their perspective, skills, interests and experiences.

What do I mean by this? Who are the advice givers you might run into?

The extrovert, who gains energy from meeting others, is glad to advise you about all of the people you “need” to meet. They have a long list of events to attend or job seeker groups you “have” to go to. Their advice is all around being places where there are a lot of people. Their advice focuses on the “strangers” you don’t know who might be able to help you. The problem? This may not fit your introverted style.

The “organized” person will tell you that you need to keep a detailed spreadsheet of all activity. Keep that spreadsheet updated as you complete task, meet new people, follow up on previous contacts, etc. You’ll spend an hour a day on that spreadsheet . . .yet you hate doing this kind of thing. Their advice is focused on what makes them tick, not necessarily what makes you tick.

The “grinder” will advise you to apply to at least 4 jobs a week. They “know” that it is a “numbers game.” You will beat the odds if you apply enough times for enough jobs. The “law of averages” will catch up with you. This advice giver revels in having tangible targets. They love having numbers to point to their work effort. It works for them. But maybe that doesn’t work for you.

The “been through it before” advice-giving person will tell you exactly the correct way to get a job. They will map out the process that they used, successfully, in the past. Never mind that particular process might not be relevant today. Never mind the person forgot all of the missteps they took along the way. What worked for them might not be what works for you.

I am not suggesting you ignore others’ advice. But consider the source. Consider how that advice feels for you. If I told you it is so much fun to run a half marathon, but you have never run a race in your life, would you think that is great advice? What if I advised you that you should buy a certain car or cell phone or bike? Just because I like them doesn’t mean you will. Same with job-seeking advice. Listen, consider but decide how it fits you.

Attitude, not Advice

I would like to keep the “AIR” metaphor, but substitute a different word for the letter “A”. What if you use the word “Attitude” instead?
Your attitude is within your own control. That is the best way to manage your daily moods.

Your attitude can match your experience, talents, interests and skills.

A positive attitude is perceived by others. They will want to work with you, interview you and be around you.
An attitude that reflects the reality of your situation will be easier to manage and maintain. There will be tough days when is seems you are getting no traction on interviews. There will be days you are nervous for an interview. But if you know it is your self-chosen attitude, you might feel more comfortable.

So keep the “AIR”. But rely on your attitude, not the advice of others.

If you want to read the full article I referenced, go here http://careersherpa.net/networking-is-a-waste-of-time-or-is-it

“Tell me about yourself”

“Tell me about yourself.” One of the most common interview questions. Often, a question you get asked in a networking situation.

An open-ended question like that can lead you in so many directions. What do you want to tell the other person? What is the purpose of the two of you meeting? I got thinking about how I might answer that question.

I could say that I am married and I have four kids. I am proud that I have been married for nearly 35 years to the same woman (and amazed that she still puts up with me after all that time). I have great kids. In the end, this family that I helped create is really my true legacy. That’s one answer.

I could give my job history. I could provide a short statement of the companies I worked for, the job titles I held and some responsibilities.

I could talk about my interests. I write a weekly blog on careers. I am a runner. I am a life-long learner, most interested in how people make decisions and the biases we don’t know we have.

Any of those responses might make a connection with the other person. Or they might not

Turn that question around

Rather than answer that query with whatever strikes you, turn around your perspective. What if you spent some time thinking about how your answer could best serve THE OTHER PERSON? What insight can you give them that might help them understand you better? Giving the other person something to work from, rather than a recitation of some history, helps them.

Here is one idea. Remember that for the other person, you are mostly a blank slate, perhaps augmented by some assumptions they have made. Start with some of the best things YOU DO. This helps them see where you shine. It starts to fill that blank slate in. In addition, you have started the discussion at a place where you shine the most.

A similar idea is to start with three adjectives that describe you and provide a brief example of that adjective in action. Connecting those adjectives to something the other person needs, creates a dialogue. In the context of an interview, I have helped the other person understand how I might help them meet a need or overcome a challenge. In the case of a networking conversation, I have helped the other person know how they can help me. Let me expand on each.

“Tell me about yourself” in an Interview

What you have done at your jobs is interesting, but may not be relevant to the job you are interviewing for. It may be a fact that you were a “software engineer at XYZ Company for five years who assisted customers with use of our software & resolved issues requiring back end access”. But if that activity is not almost exactly the same (in the interviewer’s mind) as the requirements for this job, it is not helpful.

“I was a financial analyst assessing and hedging currencies to protect company profitability” might be true. Unless the other person is look for that skill, you have not opened up much of a conversation.

But what if you started with something different? “I find that when asked that question, the best I can do is help you understand what makes me tick. So, I want to tell you about three characteristics that describe me and give you an example of each. First, I am organized. I find that spending a little time before a meeting prepping myself on the issues at hand and what I know about potential options makes me more productive. Second, I am  . . .”

Keep it short. Much more than a minute long and you lose the other person’s interest. Think about what you learned in high school or college: “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and remind them what you told them about”. Repetition is not bad when it helps learning. Also make sure it matches the other person’s need.

“Tell me about yourself” in a Networking conversation

Networking conversations can be so awkward. We typically don’t want to ask the person for a job, or ask them if they know any jobs in our field of interests. Either of those puts them on the spot. Sometimes the networking contact is someone we don’t know. If we can help them understand what we can do, perhaps we help them help us.

An “elevator speech” might be one approach. But to be honest, they sound canned. They sound like you are reciting some poem you had to learn in grade school. High on the “buzz words” factor, but low on true usable content.

Try a similar approach of highlighting your strengths. “Thanks for asking. Let me tell you a little about three things that characterize me. I would be interested after you hear them what you think might be a good approach for me going forward. First, I am organized, etc.”

In this case, I told the person what I am going to tell them about. AND, I told them what I am hoping them to get from them (“I would be interested…”). This helps them understand what they should be listening for.

Keep this in mind

The other person may have a good reason for asking “Tell me about yourself”. They want to see how you respond. They want to know are you a short answer or a long answer person.

There is an equal chance the person has NO good reason for asking that question. They aren’t very good at interviewing or networking. They often use it as an opener (just like we often see someone and say “what’s new?”).

So don’t try to read too much into that question. Your preparation with a concise, meaningful answer will refelct well on you.

Marketing yourself better than Death Valley

(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)

A recent trip to Death Valley National Park provided a good metaphor for job seeking and career planning. How is that for a weird teaser? Allow me to explain.

When I first told my wife I wanted to visit Death Valley (since we would be passing by it on a trip), her reaction was, “Is he trying to get rid of me?”. Yes, Death Valley seems like an odd place to visit, especially in the late spring when normal temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit late in the day. And who wants to visit a place with that name, on purpose?

Her skepticism was reinforced when we arrived at the visitor’s center at 6:30 PM and the temperature was 111 degrees. Who deliberately goes to a desert-like terrain when the temperature is that hot in order to site see? But I knew sunset comes early there, so we set off for Zabriskie Point to watch the sun come down and the moon rise.

And that’s when we discovered that there is more to it.

So what are the lessons for job seekers?

1.) Death Valley has a Marketing problem. If they called it “Salt Valley” or “Surprise Valley”, do you think more people might readily consider visiting? While the moniker Death Valley might be at least partially true, it does not begin to explain all of the richness of the place. It does not come close to describing the experience. There is so much to the place than a barren, hot desert. It is awe-inspiring. It has varied landscapes. There is not Death around you, but the beauty of a great landscape to be discovered.

So might you have a Marketing problem. Might you have the same problem with your description of yourself? “I worked at ABC Corporation for 21 years”. “I am a data analyst with a strong attention to detail”. Does that stir the heart of a recruiter or hiring manager? Do you think others will want to consider exploring more about you or passing you by for the next person (or National Park)?

Do you describe your experience in a way that others would understand your value? Do you explain the things someone else could get out of having your skills? Is your description something that gets another’s attention?

2.) To enjoy Death Valley the most, sacrifices are required. We had to drive an hour from our Airbnb to get to Death Valley. So one day we got up at 3:30 AM in order to watch a sunrise and to beat the heat. Our reward? Death Valley at sunrise is amazing. Watching the surrounding mountains change colors from brown to a fire red to a greenish or a tan hue is such a great reward. And because we got there early, we walked on Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America, as the only two people. Here we were in the most iconic place in the Park, and we had it all to ourselves! By the way, it was also shaded by the mountains, so it was quite comfortable.

Like that early-morning trip, sometimes a career or career search will require a big sacrifice (awaking at 3:30 AM and driving an hour is no picnic). In our career, we have to do things we don’t like to do. We sacrifice. We wonder if what we are doing will have a payoff. We might not recognize the potential of a payoff, well in the future. Our sacrifice might lead to nothing, a total bust. But if you do your homework, think through the alternatives and weight the opportunity, you are making an informed decision.

Maybe just putting a plan down on paper seems like a burden. You have to “find the time” to do it. You “don’t know what you want to do”. Personal introspection is not easy. You might find that you have some skills gaps. You start understanding you are in the wrong career field (“now what do I do?”). You don’t want to think about the future.

What sacrifices are you willing to make for a great career outcome?

3.) Having a plan for visiting Death Valley really enhances the experience. We knew what we wanted to visit, in what order (to minimize driving), and when it was best to visit. That plan was great because Death Valley is huge. We could have wasted a lot of time driving. We also asked the Park Rangers for some advice. And I am so glad we went to Dante’s View like they recommended. It was a great end to the trip and provided a perspective on what we had seen over the prior day and a half.

Your own career plan can enhance your career experience. I like to tell people they need a career plan to know “what’s next”. You get to decide how detailed your plan is. But at a minimum, have your marketing plan in place is critical. What have you accomplished at your roles? What problems do you solve? How can you help an organization achieve their goals? Maybe you simply want to avoid the hottest weather. Or a gap in your resume. Perhaps you want to choose the sacrifices in you make in your career. Otherwise, others may impose sacrifices on you.

Like you, Death Valley has strengths and weaknesses. It has highs and lows. It has a beauty that is not apparent in the name and in its website. For those people that venture there, prepared, it holds a lasting value. Why not do the same thing with your career?