Oh The Places You'll Go

Guest post by Dr. Dee Soder

Transitions are difficult, but with a few basics and the right attitude you will succeed.

Anyone contemplating a job change in the current economic climate should spend at least an hour a day-two if the handwriting is on the wall. And regardless of level or age, read Dr. Seuss' terrific book "Oh, The Places You'll Go". In humorous verse and pictures, he gives advice on weathering the ups and downs we all encounter during the course of our careers: confusion and uncertainty, unexpected success, loneliness, finding fun, meeting people, taking charge, and the Great Balancing Act.

Will reaching your goal be challenging -yes. Fun-no. Require work-yes. Is the work worth it? Yes!! Per Dr. Seuss:

"And will you succeed?

Yes! You will indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)"

Tips for Moving On and Up

  1. Develop a self-summary that can be heard and easily repeated. If you're an analyst who's passionate about technology and good with creative people, say so. Test your self-summary on a clerk, neighbor, or manicurist-can they repeat it later?
  2. Have three introductions ready. One is very short, another is five minutes long, and the third is longer yet. For example, the shortest summary is for a quick intro at a party, the five-minute version when you just have a short time to talk and last is for an interview or if you're sitting next to someone at dinner. Most people neglect the first and second intros-and make their messages too lengthy.
  3. Make sure people know how to reach you. In emails, give time and phone number-translate any time difference and use their time zone. On voice mails, give your phone number early and slowly, repeat at end.
  4. Send thank-you notes promptly, generally the same day. Keep them short and don't over-sell in a thank-you note. Be careful with salutations. For example, "Hi Dave" to a potential boss or peer is wrong tone. Whether to use a note card, stationary, or email depends on the person and the context. For example, use email to write someone who is traveling and not apt to receive your note for a week. Generally thank-you notes sent by messenger or over-night delivery aren't appropriate and look too eager
  5. Waiting for an interview to start? Stand-you'll look and feel better ("How To Act Like A CEO", Fortune, Sept. 8, 1997.)
  6. Utilize an old IBM sales tactic-when you first enter someone's office, look around and notice what "doesn't belong". The hard hat, movie poster, or sailfish in an otherwise traditional corporate office has a story-ask about it. One client discussed sailing with the potential employer for 15 minutes before he was asked about work (he's since been promoted twice and gone sailing.)
  7. Have good questions. "What made you want to work here" is often a good early question because it gets the interviewer in a recruiting mind-frame. Questions about specifics during the interview will make it a conversation and demonstrate your diligence and knowledge of the company.
  8. Remember that executives often ask assistants and others for their impressions or to conduct an initial screen. Treat staff as professionals-they are. Patronizing flattery, condescension, manipulation attempts and similar behavior is inappropriate and unwise.
  9. Be the perfect, gracious guest when you visit a company. If the interviewer's assistant offers you a beverage, accepting a glass of water is perfectly fine. Requesting decaf, hazelnut-flavored coffee with skim milk and artificial sweetener sends the message that you're needy and high-maintenance.
  10. Don't fake it when asked about your experience or knowledge. It won't work and can be disastrous. Ask the person who falsely claimed fluency in German, or the person who implied friendship with a prominent lawyer, how they felt when facts surfaced.
  11. Turned down? Lost out on a job? Be gracious and follow with a thank-you for consideration. Keep in touch-you never know what will happen. Executives have good memories and many friends. There's always a chance you'll be considered for a similar position when it becomes vacant. Avoid the "I didn't want the job anyway" mindset.

Basics of Moving On and Up

The basics of transitioning are just that-basic to a successful transition.

  1. Decide you want to move-whether to a new area, new function or new company. Decide whether you'll put in the effort and time to make a change. The Olympics illustrate the importance of dedication, persistence and the right attitude. The gold medals go to the best prepared people, those who got up early, practiced (and practiced and practiced), and who had their goal always in mind.
  2. Luck happens-but don't count on it. And be prepared to take advantage if it does. Have your introductory spiel and resume ready, look and act sharp. You never know when a senior person may "drop by" unexpectedly, when you may get to attend a key meeting, or who you'll meet en route to a client. I met two CEOs while boarding an airplane and secured major engagements from them only a few months later. Most senior executives have advanced their careers via chance encounters. During a reorganization or merger, presence is especially important-look rested and confident. During busy times, an executive may pass you in the hall and make a decision as to whether you can handle more (Is she up to the task? Can he take the next step?). Of course, bad luck happens too. Plan ahead.
  3. Know yourself. Know your strengths, weaknesses, motives and quirks. Too often people think about whether they can get a job and not whether they truly want it. Be realistic. You may be a great salesperson for MegaCorp, but that may change with a new business card for a little-known company. Similarly strong coffee may help for a few weeks if you're not a morning person, but joining a company where everyone's at work by 7 or 7:30 doesn't make sense if you "come alive in the afternoon". If you're good in finance, but truly enjoy marketing and management-think twice before accepting a finance job. (In doubt? Then call and we can put you in touch with well-paid people who wish they had chosen differently.)
  4. Know where you're going. Develop a list of other jobs, areas, and/or companies that interest you and seem like a possible match to you. Not aware of other possibilities? Develop a preliminary target list. Some people recommend talking to contacts (networking). We don't-preferring to reserve those contacts for a later time. We recommend setting aside a few hours each week for research. The internet and the library are terrific resources. One executive recommends "spending a Saturday at the library and going through the last few years of Fortune or an industry publication, the last year of The Wall Street Journal…you get a feeling for growth areas and executives which you can refine later."
  5. Identify allies and sources of help. A list of friends, allies and contacts will be most helpful if it's written down. Keep adding to it as you think of new people and recall people whom you've helped. Review the list to see how they can help you with your target list. Some people will be able to provide background information, some introductions, etcetera. Wise use of this two list system (your target list and contact list) will ensure the proverbial win-win. It saves your allies time, enables them to be truly helpful and provides you with desired information easily and efficiently.
  6. Do your homework. Learn as much as possible about the people, job and business before you start discussions. The internet is obviously a great resource, but not the only one. For example, one person attended a venture conference in order to meet a future employer. Another person was able to overcome a staid banking stereotype by spending a day watching how people dressed, acted, and talked in his desired company, a technology venture. The work and time paid off. The banker became one of Apple's first employees (and a millionaire at an early age). Doing your homework can help you in a transition- both in getting an offer and avoiding a mistake by accepting the wrong job.
  7. Practice intros, greetings and interviews. Enlist a friend or relative's help, but to ensure maximum help, tell them you want to hear at least five flaws or things you can improve. Friends are often reluctant to be too critical. Remember, too, that you will act differently with a friend. One client I coached was great with his good friend, but nervous and sweating during practice with a colleague of mine. Leave yourself a voicemail to hear how you sound on the phone. Practice your handshake-a bad one is more problematic than most people realize. Don't let nervousness or a desire to show you "get it" result in your cutting people off, or finishing their sentences. Simply count to four after the person stops speaking and before you start.  
  8. Be cautious about whom you tell you're seeking a new situation. It's a competitive world. Plus even well-meaning friends can mention it to the wrong people or give the wrong slant with a detrimental result. At a recent workshop an attendee asked how to recover from a blunder-- the blunder? He asked a coworker if she knew of any jobs in advertising as a good friend wanted to move due to a bad boss….the coworker was the sister of the "bad boss". She was married, with a different name, and fortunately wasn't close to her brother. Certain situations and industries call for extra caution in transitions-approach them with a rifle, not a shotgun.
  9. Remember: employers are people too. Your future boss wants to work with someone who is thoughtful, follows-up, loyal, personable, honest, and shares similar values. So in addition to impressing a future boss with your skills and ability, demonstrate that you'll make her look and feel better on a daily basis. Thank her for considering you (send a follow-up note promptly.) Last week two senior clients expressed annoyance and amazement at poor etiquette and follow-through of candidates. If an email is appropriate, follow to make sure it is received. Make it easy for a potential boss to find you, especially if you travel. If you can't access your private email at work, are you checking it frequently? Slow responses will be interpreted as low drive and interest. Administrative assistants, search executives, assessment experts and others whom you may meet in search of "the right job" are part of your potential employer's family too. Remember employers will hire the best all-around person, not the smartest.
  10. Beware the dream job. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Keep the differences between recruiting and reality to a minimum by good questions and diligence. Then the surprises will be pleasant ones.

Per Dr. Seuss,       

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

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