Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Now Discover your Strengths

If you read this regularly, you will have noticed that I try to focus on the positive and help people build on their strengths. A piece of this comes from Now Discover your Strengths, and somehow I've missed writing the book up. What this book does is validate things most of us know intuitively, but may be afraid to commit to.

In my case, math and science are noticeably easier for me than reading and writing, or at least it started out that way. :) Unfortunately, I was 32 before I allowed myself to use that information in relationship to my career. I also have a need to understand how things work and while that’s useful in lots of areas, I didn’t nurture that as part of my career until about the same time. This combination led to changing careers and embracing computers and systems development... More accurately, my previous careers hadn’t been all that successful, so when I chose a new path, I actually included this information in the equation. The result was a career in computers and development that lasted most of 30 years and that was very successful.

The point is not about me, but what happens when building a career based on strengths, which leads back to Now Discover your Strengths. One element in their process is an online test that can provide a view of your natural strengths. You can go straight to the test via , but context helps, so maybe you borrow the book and take the test. What you will get back from the test will be a list of the five areas of how you approach life and problem solving that are your strongest tools. For example my first one in “Ideation”, in this case it means I need to understand stuff, there’s more to it of course and you can look that up if you care, but the real point is that when I took the test 20 odd years after I switched into computers systems, I found something that actually had language around why my choice worked. Very powerful stuff.

When you take the test, it will not tell you what your career should be, “ideation” doesn’t tell me I should be a developer, but when I look at an opportunity, it allows me to evaluate my chances for success much more clearly and with significantly better tools. It will also help you understand the styles of work that will facilitate your success.

In Now Discover your Strengths Marcus Buckingham defines a strength as “consistent near perfect performance in an activity.” The level of performance must be consistent, which means you’ve done it before and can expect this when you do it again. One of Buckingham’s examples is Tiger Woods. Woods drives are amazing and consistent and he can (and does) rely on them. Realistically, there isn’t anyone who drives like Tiger, but driving is a strength for a lot of golfers and many of them build their games around their drives. In other words, “near perfect” is relative. What the test will give you isn’t a description of your drives, just a description of how you can optimize your approach to many things.

Using my own example again, “ideation” is my first strength, and “strategic” is my second. As a developer, I found I did a great job on new development and honestly struggled with maintenance work. My strengths translate to someone who is almost exclusively a top down thinker, and if I don’t understand context I struggle until I get the context. The strengths of a good new system developer includes an ability to understand the whole and to get the details right inside that whole. A maintenance developer works best if they don’t need the whole, just the three or four details required to fit the new code into a program/system etc. Prior to taking the test, I understood that my performance was distinctly different in maintenance mode vs development mode and I just could not figure out why. Taking the test made the reasons very clear and really drives me to focusing on one vs the other. What the test did for me was give me vocabulary to understand why one function was relatively easy and very satisfying while what seems to be a very similar track was just a major challenge and nothing but frustrating.

Equally important, the test results help me understand what would be a successful future choice. Moving from IT to career coaching, it’s clear to me that I need to base my coaching on my strengths… Actually it’s clear that I will base it on my strengths because I don’t know how to do it any other way. If that way is incompatible with career coaching then I need to come up with a plan B. Your particulars are different than mine, but you do work from your strengths or you struggle, just like me. Knowing what these are allows you to avoid a lot of frustration.

Start by reading the book and taking the test. The words it will come back with might not be all that familiar so read the descriptions. Think about how those apply to your work life. The descriptions will be describing things you did when you were successful, how can you build on these? How can you use more of these in your life? Your work?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Networking Workshop

After reading Sandy Jones-Kaminski's book, I had an opportunity to meet her recently and became even more impressed. The result is that along with Career Horizons and Bella Domain, we will be hosting a PIF Networking workshop on March 2 and I couldn't be more excited. One of my earlier posts characterizes "Job Socials" as wayyy to similar to a Jr High School Dance, just swap the boys and girls with recruiters and job seekers and the picture is complete. What we will be doing at this event is teaching a way skip that whole thing and providing an opportunity to networks with a variety of folks.

Pay it Forward Networking Workshop, March 2. RSVP at the Meetup group Notes From the Job Search.

More to follow.

Monday, January 11, 2010



I started Notes from the Job Search (NFJS) last winter in response to my need to support my job search and it has evolved into a full-service career-coaching organization focusing on re-employment. The part of this is that our participants are going back to work and they are going to jobs they want. The number of stories about people identifying what their passions are, then getting those jobs just keeps growing and makes NFJS very rewarding.

We currently host two free weekly support groups and are adding a third this week. The new group will meet at Jitters Cafe in Overlake (15010 NE 20th Bellevue) Thursday's at 1:00. This blog has been reasonably successful, and more importantly, the number of people following it continues to grow.

My last post was on Sandy Jones-Kaminski's book I'm at a Networking Event, Now What? and this book is inspiring us to co-host something called a "Pay it Forward" (PIF) event as a way of putting into practice some of what we are learning about networking. We are preparing classes that focus on individual skills within the job search process.

My brother Mike Paul joined me in this endeavor last summer and has become a full partner in developing and presenting solutions to the job search challenge. His help and support are critical and amazing!

My background (as many of you know) is Information Systems/Technology: First as a developer, then as several kinds of manager, including a stint as Director of IT for a large non-profit. The most important consequence of that for NFJS is that it is normal for me to analyze problems, break them down into component parts, and then develop solutions that included all of the necessary steps. I also spent four years as a Resource Manager at Excell Data managing 75+ contract employees. They worked at a variety of locations from Microsoft to the City of Seattle to Boeing, to two-person “ma & pa” startups. While I spent a lot of time mentoring people in technology in this role, the real value was mentoring/coaching them to success within complex political environments. So this change in careers isn't nearly as large as it mightn seem on the surface.

My brother’s career is in writing first as a newspaper reporter, then as technical writer. In this role he’s developed trainings, written countless documents translating the complex into the understandable and has become something of a “networking maven” within the tech-writing community. He has also been an adjunct instructor at Bellevue College in tech writing for more than five years.

While we have learned an amazing amount from the participants and volunteers with Notes From the Job Search, the learning has refined our core concepts rather than replaced them. What are those?

  • Focus on what works, rather than what doesn’t, and build on that.
  • Networking will normally find you a better job than anything published on the Internet, and find it quicker.
  • Custom resumes work better than a generic resume, but custom resumes are also extremely hard to do without a lot of preparation.
  • You know more about yourself than any consultant/coach can ever know… although it may be very hard for you to articulate it.
  • The Internet is now a key and required component of job search.
  • The Internet is a great way to avoid real job search while convincing yourself that you’re trying.
  • Networking is an ongoing part of life. It’s just another name for what occurs when you talk with someone. And if you only do it between jobs it means you misunderstand what it is. This is like trying to harvest wheat without planting any.
  • Interviewing works better when you practice.

Our offerings are evolving and growing. We started with the support groups, have added individual coaching and are in the process of putting together classes that take the components of job search and address them individually.

So 2010 is an exciting year, I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pay it Forward

One of the members of our Tuesday group brought a book to our group last week that brought a bunch of ideas together for me and added some new ones that fundamentally change how I think networking should be done. It’s stuff that I’ve vaguely thought, and haphazardly tried, but have always thought was what I shouldn’t do.

Networking events have always felt like middle school dances. You know the ones, the boys are on one side and the girls are on the other, (substitute recruiters and job seekers) and each side spends pretty much the entire night talking about how much success they always have with the other side, just not venturing forth and testing those waters. ;)

I'm starting to follow a new blog, it's on my list: Bella Domain. This is by the person who wrote I’m at a Networking Event, Now What? -- Sandy Jones-Kaminski. In the book, she postulates that the focus of networking events should not be “What can you do for me?” She proposes that every networking event be approached as an opportunity to ask, “What can I do for you?” Things like passing out business cards aggressively are strongly discouraged, instead, listen to the answers people provide and only share your card with people you actually might be able to help. She suggests an attitude of “Pay it Forward” for the event. For those that missed the book and movie, pay it forward is the idea of doing something for someone else as a way of saying thank you for things that others have already done for you. Instead of paying back what you owe, pay it forward to the next person. Turns out there is even research suggesting that this is a more effective strategy when approaching others in a networking mode. Immediately, it allows for a focus on what others are doing, rather than prattling on about how great we are when we probably aren’t all that convinced of our value to begin with. Most of us can get very convinced of our ability to solve problems within our area, so when someone says, “I need help with…. And describes what we know about, we can get into problem solving mode in a heartbeat, and then we don’t need to tell people we’re super, we just demonstrate it. Way more fun!

At any rate, Sandy’s book is outstanding. It’s one of those books that brings together a bunch of well known information and comes up with a new conclusion that feels much better than what I thought previously and completely demystifies what was a very intimidating event.