Sins of Omission: Seven Career Mistakes Caused By Inaction

career mistake

After I heard about the 7,800 layoffs coming at Microsoft, first it inspired my advice post on Forbes on career mistakes caused by not acting when layoffs are imminent. Then I checked on a former colleague who was there, but luckily she had already moved five months earlier. She mentioned that it was obvious things were going south and wondered why more of her colleagues had not decided to leave earlier, before everyone who waited would flood the job market at the same time. Failing to act is something many professionals do, not just in response to layoffs. Here are seven common “sins of omission” – career mistakes caused by inaction:

career mistake

Weak connections

Connecting to people is never urgent (unless you need something in which case it’s transacting and not genuinely connecting). If you don’t take the time to build a relationship, the networking police won’t ticket you. But you’ll have weak connections that won’t support you in a pinch.

Small network

You might think you’re OK because you have a handful of strong relationships. A small, dedicated group of friends is a blessing, for sure, but a strong network is about quantity, as well as quality. The bigger the network, the more likely you will have access to what you need – different industries, different sectors, different professional questions — at any given time. If you don’t proactively expand past your inner circle, you’ll be limited in how much your network can support you.

Insular thinking

Quantity is also about diversity of ideas and news. If you interact with the same group – from the same region or the same level or the same way of thinking – you won’t hear about an innovative approach to a problem that one industry is doing that could be relevant to something you’re doing. Expanding your thinking is not just about variety in your network but also about variety in the information you consume, events you attend, and activities you participate in. No one is going to force you to switch up your reading or attend a different conference or experiment with a new hobby, but too much of the same thing invites lazy thinking.

Career plateau

Doing your day-to-day job is not the same as managing your career. You can perform on the job and still plateau. The inaction is in not asking for a promotion review or a bigger scope or a different scope (growth isn’t always upwards but can be laterally as well). I have seen many capable professionals who let years go by before questioning if they are at the right level or even in the right career.

Compensation plateau

It’s not just your role that is danger of stagnation, but also your compensation. How many people do you know who are longtime at their company and making less than a counterpart who is new? These longtimers failed to mark their compensation up to market value. Inaction shows in not keeping up on information about what is fair compensation and not asking for what you deserve.

Mission drift

I also hear from professionals who are fine with their level and fine with their compensation but have a general malaise around “is there all this is?” In the busyness of day-to-day, the meaning behind why we do what we do is easily lost. If you don’t proactively think about the weighty issues like legacy, purpose and fulfillment, they will likely only surface in a crisis.

You “let yourself go”

The other day, my teenage daughter started playing around with the piano in our living room (currently used more as a coffee table than a performance instrument). She asked me if I could still play all the scales. I trained at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music but decades ago at this point (wow, I’m old!), and I hadn’t played in years. Yes, I could remember the scales mentally but my fingers wouldn’t follow so easily. I had really “let myself go” regarding my piano skills. Letting yourself go professionally might show up in a slovenly look, a little less punctuality, or coasting at work. It’s diminished effort over time in the small but important habits that turn into barnacles that sink the submarine. It’s not what you did; it’s what you didn’t do or stopped doing.

Proactive action steps include maintaining good habits, following and nurturing your inner compass, marking your value to market, managing your long-term career not just your job, expanding and maintaining a diverse network, and expanding and maintaining a diverse body of knowledge and way of thinking. Where are you falling into the habit of inaction? How do you remind yourself to focus on important, but not time-urgent priorities?

The Employment Numbers That Really Matter to Job Seekers

In my latest job search advice post for Money.com and Time.com, I write about the employment numbers that matter, and they’re not from the Bureau of Labor! Here is the unedited version:

I was recently asked to comment on what the latest employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics mean for job seekers. Unless you’re an economist, employment statistics for the country don’t matter to the individual job seeker. If you really want to impact your job search, pay attention to data much closer to home. Here are 10 numbers you want to track closely:job search tips

Your employment statistic

Whether the market is at 5%, 10% or 50% unemployment, your number will always be 0% or 100%. You either have a job or you don’t. If you do, focus on whether you like your job, whether you’re fairly compensated, and whether you’re continually growing your skills, network, or expertise. If you don’t have a job and aren’t independently wealthy, prioritize your job search.

Interview invitations

The easiest way to see if you’re on track is to count the number of interviews you are invited to. If you’re not getting interviews, you’re not getting the chance to get hired. Since employers interview multiple people for every one job, you can’t be assured that you’ll be the one. You need to have multiple companies in play at any one time. Aim for five to ten interviews per week. Remember that some roles will not be filled at all or will go to someone internal or will go to another candidate.

Callbacks made

Getting an interview is one thing, but moving forward in the process is a separate issue. Companies don’t normally hire after just one interview, so you also need to track whether you are getting callbacks. If not, you need to work on your interview technique. You want to get called back after every interview. Even if you’re not interested in the job, you want to know that you did well, and you want to be the one that says No, not the employer.

Meetings scheduled

If you aren’t getting callbacks or even interviews, then you’re not putting yourself out there enough. It’s easy to send resumes – too easy in fact, so most of your competition will do that. What’s harder but much more effective is networking – meeting with people to learn more about the companies and roles you are interested in, hopefully get referrals to companies, or even turn that networking meeting into an actual interview. Aim for five to ten meetings per week. If you’re well-researched and meeting with the right people, these five to ten meetings will turn into interviews as your search progresses.

Leads identified

How do you get the networking meetings that lead to interviews? You can cold call a senior, influential decision-maker, absolutely. However, when you get started, unless you’re a trained salesperson, the thought of cold calling might be overwhelming and therefore not so productive. Start with people you know – family, friends, former colleagues, classmates. You know more people than you think. These early leads will enable you to practice your networking skills in a supportive environment, collect information about companies and other people (who then will be warm leads, not cold calls!), and might even become more formal meetings or interviews themselves.

Companies researched

When you exhaust your friendly leads, you may have to cold call to supplement your pipeline. In order to identify the appropriate people in your area of interest, you need to know the companies active in your area of interest. List out all of the companies, organizations, agencies, and trade associations that are of interest so you can research the right people to target. You also want to make sure you’re going after a large enough pool and not being so narrow there aren’t enough jobs. If you want to work as a grant writer for a children’s-related non-profit, how many of these non-profits are there in your market? If you live in a major metro, there are probably enough to sustain a search. But if not, you may want to also look at schools, government agencies that serve children, for-profit daycare and learning centers, etc. Make sure you have enough target companies that there will be enough jobs and people to go after.

Distance to the decision-maker

So you itemize your family and friends and you have your company target list to add even more names. But how powerful are these names? If you’re the aspiring grant writer, do you know senior people in the development department specifically? You want to know and network the people you will ultimately interview with and who will ultimately make the hiring decisions. Sure, it’s also useful to know the IT or finance or other people at a children’s non-profit, but given a choice, you want the shortest distance to the decision-maker.

Time spent on your search

As you can see from all of the people you need to keep up with, the job search takes time. How many hours per week are you spending your search? Many job seekers get in trouble because their search stops and starts. They spend hours one day researching companies or applying to jobs, but then they don’t follow or continue to add more leads. They just wait and do other non-job related things. Aim for 10-20 hours on your search if you’re employed and double that if you’re unemployed. If you see that you’re spending too little time on your job search, fill in those extra hours with rekindling friendly connections, cold calling new connections, identifying more companies, and booking more meetings. There is always more to do!

Money in the bank

Unless you’re independently wealthy, your severance, savings, or whatever is filling your bank account outside of your job is what is funding your job search. If you have six months of expenses covered, your job search pace and strategy should be much different than if you have six weeks left. Be mindful of your cash cushion so you don’t go too slowly and then are pressured as funds run out. If you are employed and have a paycheck for your “money in the bank” then focus on doing well enough on your current job to keep it. You will need your current job for strong references as well.

Time elapsed since you started

Finally, another key number to track is the overall length of your search. If you are one month into your search, your expected results are different then if you’re six months into your search. For example, at one month, you should have itemized your networking list, gathered your marketing documents and started your research. At six months, you should be well into the callback interview stage, if not totally completed with your search. Aim to complete your search in 3-6 months. That represents one to two business quarters. Market conditions change every quarter (in volatile times, it could be more frequently than that). If you run a slow job search that spans over multiple quarters, you have a new market to tackle every few months, rather than building on your efforts within the same market conditions.

Given that there is so much to do and so many more important numbers to track, you can now save some time and energy by not tracking the BLS numbers. Focus on your own efforts instead.

Five Career Temptations When Saying No Might Be The Best Response

It’s scary saying No. When it comes to career decisions, second-guessing is rampant: Should I keep looking rather than accept this opportunity? Should I take that meeting just in case? What if I drop this project or client or activity and regret it?

Sometimes it feels crazy saying No but it is the best thing to do. My recent Forbes post is about when saying No to a dream job actually makes sense. Here are five other tantalizing possibilities to which saying No may actually be the better move:saying no

The latest trend

Periscope, anybody? If you’re a social media marketer, you should jump on Periscope because it’s your job to stay cutting-edge. Or if you love all things technology, then by all means, check it out. For everyone else, you don’t need to adopt every new social media tool or network. Wait and see if it gains traction. Learn more about it to see if it makes sense for your branding and networking. Check your schedule and priorities to confirm that the timing is right to take this on.

The go-to resource

Not everyone should join their main professional association or attend the industry conference or get the certification that everyone else seems to have. There are legitimate reasons to buck generally accepted practices in your career field. For example, if you’re looking to target smaller employers, it may make more sense to canvas meet-ups on specialty niches in your sector rather than the main professional association. Depending on your individual career objectives, the best industry conference to attend might be where your clients are, not your colleagues. Depending on the rest of your background, a certification may not be required or a different kind of training may be more beneficial.

The unsolicited invitation

Just because someone invites you to coffee doesn’t mean you have to accept — even if you know you should be networking more, even though the best networking is about giving and creating meaningful relationships (which often requires face-to-face investment), even if a chance encounter might turn into something more. Depending on your other commitments and how this invitation fits in with your overall strategy, you may have to respectfully decline. Will you seem standoffish? Will you burn a bridge if this person doesn’t ask again? Will you potentially miss out on something? Yes, there are costs to turning down invitations. In addition, many clients I work with do too little networking, not too much, so even I hesitated to write about saying No to networking. However, if you’re a people pleaser, you may fall into a trap of accepting too many of these invitations and not enough of drumming up your own targeted networking leads. Most networking is good networking but you still should prioritize it in context of everything else you have going on.

The extra project

It’s often true that you need to take on the bigger responsibility before you get the official promotion to go with it. However, it doesn’t mean that every extra project pays off. Is this project a top priority for your boss and the other decision-makers at your company? Will this project allow you to develop new skills? Can you do this project exceptionally well, while keeping up with your existing responsibilities? If this is a request from your boss, you may not be able to say No, in which case you need to focus on delegating other things off your plate, lobbying for additional resources, or extracting some other concession – i.e., don’t just say Yes unconditionally. You want to be helpful but preserve your boundaries.

The bigger role

You may prefer to be an individual contributor over a manager. You may not want a promotion because your priority is something outside your immediate job (e.g., getting a second degree, a family issue, an entrepreneurial venture, more self-care). You may not want a bigger role because it would mean focusing on different clients or niches than your specific interest. There are many legitimate reasons why bigger is not better. Saying No to a bigger role could mean saying Yes to something more important to you.

To be clear, I do think people should welcome bigger roles even when they’re scary, or extra work if the long-term payoff outweighs the short-term push, or the unsolicited invitation since many people don’t network enough. I also think go-to resources are go-to for good reasons, and you want to make sure you’re getting the professional development you need. It’s also a good thing to stay updated on trends. Saying Yes to the latest trend, go-to resource, unsolicited invitation, extra project or bigger role could be a very good thing. But not always. So stand your ground if you want to say No.

 

 

Avoid The Slowdown: Summer Job Search Strategies

In my latest post for Time.com I cover strategies specific to the summer job search. Here is the unedited version:

It’s a myth that people don’t get hired over the summer. Yes, people are on vacation, so hiring typically slows down as interviews are harder to schedule, but people do get hired. As a job seeker, this means that the summer is a great time to rev up your search – your competition may take time off, assuming a hiring slowdown. Your hard-to-reach networking contacts may have a lighter, summer schedule and actually be reachable. Depending on your search goals, you might even have new opportunities because of the summer season. Here are three ways to tailor your job search activity for the summer:

schedule time

schedule time

Make it easy to schedule time with you

Summer is already a scheduling nightmare on the employer side because multiple vacation demands need to be considered. Make yourself readily available. Always carry an updated calendar with you — sync your phone with your main computer if you keep calendars in different places; sync your family calendar with your business one. You might also try an online scheduler, like TimeTrade or ScheduleOnce, where you can provide a link for the other person to see your availability and schedule directly.

Incorporate summer’s unique value proposition into your search activity

Propose outdoor networking meetings to take advantage of the warm weather. Reconnect with lost networking contacts by asking about vacation plans or sharing exciting plans of your own – the conversation may turn back to business but in the meantime at least you’ve kept in touch. If you have kids at sleepaway camp, take advantage of the quiet time by adding evening networking events. Many people work better when it’s brighter so exploit the longer summer days and get up earlier to put in extra research time and stay out later to add in more networking.

Pitch for summer “internships”

Many companies offer a summer internship program to take advantage of the off season for students. But with more of the workforce now in freelance and temporary roles, experienced professionals should consider tapping into summer opportunities for their own employment prospects. After all a company might need vacation coverage for experienced employees that is beyond the scope of what an intern can provide. Or the company may want to get a jumpstart on a longer-term project during the lighter summer season and could use extra experienced hands to get started. If you have only been focused on permanent, full-time jobs, consider adding consulting services to your pitch.

If you’re just starting your search, don’t assume the summer is too slow to gain traction. Use the summer to research company targets, update your marketing material, and rekindle personal contacts so that when the busy fall season hits you’re ready to move quickly.

If you’re in the busy part of a search and the summer vacation scheduling has put a delay in otherwise fast-moving interviews, don’t get discouraged. Check in regularly with whomever is coordinating your interviews — HR and/or the hiring manager. Give them lots of availability, and keep them posted if other prospective employers are moving faster than they are (employers are competitive and will not want to lose you to their competitors).

Regardless of where you are in your job search, summer is still a good time to stay active and make progress.

Networking Lessons Learned From Meeting A Superstar

Having lived in NYC my whole life, I have had my share of celebrity run-ins: riding an elevator with Jake Gyllenhaal; squeezing through a small restaurant foyer with Lorne Michaels, David Spade and the late Chris Farley; catching a wave from Chris Rock as he blared loud music from a bright silver convertible with the top down (on 23rd Street of all mundane places). I am not the star-struck type for entertainment personalities, but being a nerd for all things personal finance, I did get star-struck last week. I had a 30-minute, one-to-one phone interview with nine-time NY Times best-selling financial author, David Bach. I wrote up our conversation for my Forbes column on Financial Mistakes Even High-Earners Make. But here are three networking lessons I learned from this encounter:

People are accessible

Is there a role you’ve been eyeing? You may be able to reach the head of that group, Is there a company you want to do business with? You may be able to reach the CEO. David Bach actually reached out to me. Do not assume that someone is too senior or established to connect with you. Who is on your dream list to meet?

It’s always a two-way dialogue

David Bach needs PR for his latest ventures and I write for financial publications, so the connection makes sense. You will have to have a “reason” to connect with the other person. You also need to have something to say. For my Bach interview, I prepared a list of questions and shared these in advance. I referenced his books that I read. The prep work, advance notice, and existing research made it clear that I wasn’t going to waste his time. How can you relay to senior, busy contacts that you have something to say?

The best action is taking action

I myself have written about how the basics are overlooked. David Bach reiterated this from a financial perspective when he relayed how executives running million-dollar and billion-dollar businesses often didn’t have a financial plan for themselves. It’s not a complicated investment strategy that’s needed, but getting started on investing in the first place! Of course it does matter how effective your actions are, but for many people getting started with any action and doing some activity on a regular basis is what is most needed. Are you taking action toward your goal?

Have you ever met up close someone you admired from afar? What happened? What did you learn? Tell us about it!

 

Personal Finance Impacts Professional Success: Financial Mistakes Even Smart People Make

This post is tackling personal finance because it impacts your career. For my Forbes column, I have a running theme that features mistakes even smart professionals make – communication mistakes, networking mistakes…and now Financial Mistakes:

I’ve been lucky that I enjoy all things personal finance. While I was a music major in college, I also doubled in economics, and my piano teacher was an investor. We spent my lessons talking about the financial markets. So I had a running start in my 20’s with good financial habits. This helped my career dramatically over time because my solid cash foundation enabled me to absorb career moves that required extended periods of time living with less income (like taking a few years off to act and launching a business). Now that I coach people, often on career change, that bugaboo of money comes into play as smart, experienced professionals are stymied in their career moves by financial obstacles. Here are five ways that even smart people get tripped up by money:

Not prioritizing money

When I graduated college in my 20’s I wanted my own apartment in NYC, and I didn’t have parents, grandparents or the rich aunt to subsidize me. So I picked a career that was at the intersection of my interests AND my target compensation. Cold hard cash was high on my decision criteria, and it was the best move I made. I enjoyed that first career even more because I could afford my life outside of my career, and years later I could take more risks and even take time off because I prioritized the money at the time I didn’t have much. That isn’t to say that you only prioritize money. But I hear from so many people who feel guilty talking about compensation requirements or taking a job because of the pay. Depending on your circumstances, it could be a great move. You can keep track of your money metrics using a home-grown Excel spreadsheet or online resources, such as Personal Capital or Mint.

ask for a promotion

Failing to negotiate

I have recruited for over 15 years at all levels and in a variety of industries, and I have NEVER had an employer pull an offer because someone negotiated. The worst thing a company can do is say No. But you will still have the initial offer, and you will likely get a better offer, if you ask. When I had my second child, I wanted to work part-time AND continue my creative pursuits AND move industries AND maintain a six-figure salary. I created a situation that accommodated that – it took networking to identify a special opportunity, opportunism to jump on special openings where I could add unique value, and negotiation to craft a role that works. But it’s doable, if you dare to ask and when you ask the right way.

Setting expectations too low

As per the above example, I didn’t buy into the assumption that you have to take a pay cut after a maternity leave, or you have to take a cut to get a flexible schedule, or you have to take a cut when you change industries. That is not necessarily the case if you can show you are adding value equivalent to the compensation you’re seeking. Don’t assume you can’t negotiate or you have to take a lower salary or you can’t ask for flexible arrangements because you may set the bar too low and be undercompensated unnecessarily.

Setting expectations too high

That said, there have been times I have taken a cut. When I went from corporate work to acting, I didn’t expect (and didn’t achieve) my six-figure corporate salary. In fact, I went from six figures in corporate to three figures (yes, I earned $300 in my first year of acting). I did a lot of free work to build up my resume. I paid out a lot in classes, mailings, marketing, union dues and more before ever seeing a return on my investment. As a recruiter and as a coach I have seen candidates with expectations completely misaligned with roles they are seeking because they are using metrics from a flush industry to a lower-paying industry, or from an established company to a start-up, or going from a management role to an individual contributor. When you set the bar too high, you appear as if you’re not serious about making a change or you’re not self-aware enough about your value.

Not realizing that personal finance impacts the professional

Employers may run your credit as part of the employment application process. This is particularly true for finance positions, but even for other positions some employers feel that the way you manage your money is an indication of character, discipline, integrity and other attributes desirable in a good hire. If you don’t manage your credit, then you’re not fully managing your career. I check my credit three times per year for free. I use AnnualCreditReport.com to access my credit report from each of the different reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. I do this three times a year, so I only have four months in-between checking, a short enough time to catch mistakes or identity theft before it becomes a big problem. I use all three agencies (one every four months) so I can make sure each agency is correct (they are separate entities). This is not a difficult process because I set my calendar every year to remind me to check my credit. When it’s time to check my credit it shows up on my calendar and I just do it. A few minutes a year is all it takes to ensure my file is in good standing, so if any employer ever did pull my credit, I know where I stand.

Do you a financial hit or miss to share? Let us know about it!

Ten Fun Entrepreneur Quotes

I have been profiling a series of real-life career change stories for Forbes.com, many of whom are entrepreneurship stories. The insights are invaluable, but the direct quotes are the most fun. Here are ten of my favorite quotes from these profiles and other entrepreneurs:

Put it this way, when other girls had their Barbies in wedding dresses my Barbie was in a Hillary Clinton-type of pantsuit with a little briefcase. – Susanne Norwitz on how she always wanted to be an entrepreneur

I wish I knew that everything takes twice as long as you thought it would.  My passion sometimes overpowered my patience.  Many first-time entrepreneurs think they can bite off more than they can chew. – Otto Cedeno on what he wished he knew when he started his entrepreneurial journey

My courage comes from wanting to live a fulfilled life and being able to have a legacy, something tangible for my family and provide inspiration for others that may feel stuck. – Tiannia Barnes on how she persists when things get tough

I view entrepreneurship as a state of mind not defined by the organizational size or industry. – Mark Prygocki on the entrepreneurial benefits of his longtime big corporate experience

You’ve got to lose your ego. No matter how naturally smart you are or how successful you were in a previous career, there is a tremendous learning curve involved in major career transitions and you have to be strong enough to risk looking foolish and inexperienced.. – Susanne Rhow on the realities of career change

I am the entrepreneur who comes up with the wild and crazy idea and then dumps it on people to let them figure it out – Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia

Have you asked for help in your venture?

If you’re not doing something crazy, you’re doing the wrong things – Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google

Where can you get crazier in your business?

Adaptability and execution are what matter, not timing – Tim Westergren, Co-Founder of Pandora

If there is no perfect time anyway, what will you launch today?

I used to think the Corcoran Group was my golden goose. Once I sold it, I realized I was the golden goose – Barbara Corcoran, Founder of Corcoran Group Real Estate

Barbara Corcoran and Caroline Ceniza-Levine at the 2012 World of Business Ideas Conference

Barbara Corcoran and Caroline Ceniza-Levine at the 2012 World of Business Ideas Conference

Are you taking care of yourself?

Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends. – Warren Buffett, Founder of Berkshire Hathaway

Are you taking care of your relationships?

Do you have a favorite quote I missed? Please share it!

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