20151101 – The great fallacy of modern recruiting

Employers, you’re doing it wrong.

And although I’m writing today’s column to and about you, I hope every job seeker in the universe reads it and acts on it accordingly. So get ready; I do not intend to sugarcoat this.

Recently, a client of mine, Bill – who has a most impressive background – applied on line to a top-tier company, the name of which everyone knows. Why on line, a method I despise and advise against? Because that’s how the company insists you do it, that’s why.

This amounts to two parties making an egregious error: you for conducting your recruiting practice that way, and the candidate for falling for it. (I know, I know; you tell them to do it, so they feel they must. Trapped with no alternative.) I don’t know how many more times in my life I’ll have to say this, but here we go again. Stop it! Both of you.

Now, instead of me just suggesting what to do or not to do – and taking the chance that you will either believe me or blow me off, mostly on abstract terms – let me give you a real life current example that perfectly exemplifies what I’m saying.

Shortly after Bill submitted his on-line application (resume included, which I wrote for him), he received an automated response which, as anyone would recognize, involved not one ounce of human interaction. It was a stone-cold computer rejection, saying in part:

“Dear [William], [Name of Company] has considered you for the position of [Blah-blah Manager], based on reviewing your resume. While we are interested in your background, we will not be considering you further for this position at this time.”

This was followed by some mumbo-jumbo that included disclaimers, smooth talk, and other associated insincerities, and then the expected (paraphrased): “[Company] will keep your resume in our database and we will contact you in the future regarding positions that may fit your background.” And if that veneer wasn’t enough, it was followed by the “We encourage you to visit our career website to learn more about…”

You know the rest. It was signed “Sincerely, [Company Name Recruiting]”

Sincerely. Really!

Now here comes the kicker. Bill then called someone he knows within the company who is close enough to the position Bill had applied for (and high enough) to perhaps play the role of influencer. That he was, immediately asking Bill for his resume. Now watch what happened and how fast it did.

Two hours and 15 short minutes later, Bill received an email from the top dog in the division, to whom Bill would report if he got the job.

“Hi Bill, I hope all is well. My name is [Her name]. I run the global team of [blah-blah and so-and-so], have just moved up to the [top dog] position, and need to fill the position I am vacating. [John Smith] forwarded your resume and I think your experience is a close match with what I am looking for. Would you be interested in discussing this with me?” Her email ended as cordially as it began, full of openness and objectivity.

As I write this, the story is still in progress, but there’s no need to wait for the outcome. What I’m trying to illustrate couldn’t be any more apparent. Same candidate, same day (in fact, same two-hour span), but two different scenarios. The computer program, for which the company probably paid millions, after countless meetings with the vendor, internal partners, and God-knows-who-else, “rejected” Bill. The global team leader, using her head, saw Bill entirely the other way. I could use three more columns to analyze all the aspects of this, but who needs that? This fallacy is as plain as the nose on your face.

The computer – using algorithms, matrices, loops, key word searches, and every conceivable “advancement” known to HRIS – reached a conclusion. Not a decision, a conclusion. The team leader, on the other hand – using some good sense, experience, perspective, instinct (I’m almost certain), and good judgment – reached a decision, not a
conclusion. Decisions are acted upon; conclusions, where they don’t belong, end things.

And that brings us full circle to my opening remark: “Employers, you’re doing it wrong.”
But the more you invested in that damn program, the more you’re going to defend yourselves, to which I offer the following rhetorical question.

How much money – in terms of multiple billions of dollars – have employers like you lost on making bad hires? The question is unanswerable, especially as these bad hires hang on in your company until they’re let go for poor performance, and any answer you’d try to give would be Sophistic, at best (BS, in other words.) Further, how much productivity and growth would you have realized had you made better hires? Another rhetorical question, but if we could ever calculate the answers to the two questions, they would make us both dizzy – and you uncomfortable.

So that’s my last word to you, dear employer, by which I do not expect to win your undying friendship.

Now, my entreaty to the candidates. Don’t stop in the face of what seems to be an immovable object. Be like Bill, the irresistible force.

And don’t buy the fallacy. Do this on your terms.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20151018 – The age issue hasn’t died. Deja-vu all over again.

In need of career help, Ken – 57 years old – called me. He’s still employed, 13 years with the same company, but hasn’t enjoyed a day of work since the global economic meltdown began in 2008. His employer, like many, didn’t handle it well, turning the office from a place he looked forward to getting to in the morning to one he couldn’t wait to leave at five. Or six. Or whenever the daily turmoil wound down. Ken had enough. He wanted out.

We had a good conversation and, as I asked, Ken emailed me his resume which, as it turns out, was a pretty well-crafted document: well laid out, well written, comprehensive, clear, the whole nine yards. Except for one thing. The earliest date on the resume was 1997. Ken, you’ll remember, is 57, and the way I figured it, must have started his career somewhere around 1981. Now, he did have a “Previous Positions” section at the bottom of the resume but there were no dates. Then came his education. No dates. Also listed was “Continuing Professional Development” (certificates and such). Right, no dates. Rather than camouflaging his age, it made the hidden remarkably evident, just the reverse of Ken’s intentions.

Regular readers know how adamant I am about “seniors” (technically Ken wasn’t even in that category yet) trumpeting all the benefits they offer, and I have long been on the case of every older worker to put all that up front and center. I’m happy to say that many have listened and have even said, in some cases, that it actually sped up their job searches, which might sound counter-intuitive until you realize what happens when you leave dates off. An overwhelming number of employers toss resumes that give even the slightest hint of dishonesty, deception, irregularities, omissions, and so forth. No wonder it takes so long. You’re getting rejected and don’t even know it. Just think: a potential employer had your resume in the A pile based on, let’s say, key words or your having worked for a particular employer, and then started reading further, only to get deflated by your obvious attempt to deceive. You were actually in contention for a brief moment and then…wham!

So I called Ken. “What’s with the sleight of hand, Ken?” I knew what the answer was going to be – would have bet the farm on it – and, sure enough, Ken started going on about age. Well, it wasn’t long before I cut him off and went into my standard lecture, but to make the whole thing totally ridiculous, all those dates were on his LinkedIn profile (can’t escape that). Now, given that approximately 95 percent of all hiring managers and recruiters check your LinkedIn profile and then compare that to your resume – either before or after your initial conversation – where do you think you’re going with this behavior? Certainly not to their HR department to fill out your I-9 form!

There’s so much wrong with this that it makes me crazy. For instance, effectively one-third of the labor force is 50 or older, and that will keep on rising. Therefore, there is more empathy in the workplace than ever before. What’s more, hiding your age is basically hiding your strengths, because most of your value comes from perspective, extensive networks, experience, and judgment (Will Rogers said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and much of that comes from bad judgment.”) Guess where employers are going to get all this good stuff. From a guy Ken’s age, not from a candidate his son’s age.

Look, age is about as easy to hide as a great big boil on the tip of your nose. But even if you could hide your age, why would you? It’s your strength, not your weakness.

And here comes another thing wrong with this scenario. The minute you get away from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you’re beginning to complicate your life, trying to keep track of what version of the “truth” you’re sending to whom. Sooner or later, in every case, that will come up to bite you – and you know exactly where – especially in this age of transparency. You just can’t hide anything. Besides, you know the old saying, don’t you? “The best part about telling the truth is that you never have to remember what you said.” That’s a lot easier and it removes the stress, right?

We all know that age, officially, can never be part of the hiring decision. And we all know, unofficially, that sometimes it is. Any attempt to hide it, therefore, is stupid and fruitless. In thinking about that, if I were interviewing you, knowing I can’t ask questions about age or when you went to high school, I think I’d ask a simple question: “Is your resume complete?” I think that’s fair, as I’d ask that question to a 30-year-old candidate, too. So don’t be surprised if you start hearing it. It’s fair and, from the employer’s side, smart. Now, how are you going to answer that, Ken?

Every time I write about attempting to hide your age, I find myself hoping it will be the last. And then I have to do it again. It’s getting old.

And so am I.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20151004 – Long-term career planning: not for the young only

Today’s column is specifically for workers who are 50 and older. Or almost. Or who plan to be.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median employee tenure in January 2014 for men was 4.7 years, unchanged from January 2012. For women, it was 4.5 years, about unchanged from January 2012. Only 30 percent of men and 28 percent of women were with their current employer for 10 years or more. (BLS’ employee tenure statistics are revised every two years, so this is the latest.)

Interestingly, the median tenure for men and women during the 2004-2014 decade is up: 0.6 and 0.7 years, respectively.
So why is today’s column for the “older” crowd? Well, once upon a time, there was the concept of longevity in jobs, certainly as one got along in one’s career. My father, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, worked for one employer for 44 years, and that was it. Me? Not even close. But as the data show, although tenure is rising (slightly, but rising nonetheless), and although it’s longer-term and more consistent in workers over 50, it’s nothing like what it used to be, and if you’re 50 today and plan to work until 65 (which is also a rapidly changing standard; 70 is more like it), the data tell us you’re almost certain to change jobs at least once, probably twice, and possibly three times before you retire. That is, if you retire altogether, or even morph into a “retirement career” (one of the great oxymorons in history; “un-retirement” is another beauty, isn’t it?) To put this in perspective, 51.5 million workers, effectively one-third of the workforce, are 50 or older, and that number will continue to rise as far down the road as we can see. So all of a sudden you’re at an age at which your grandparents considered long-term career planning a thing of the past – and here you are, facing it head on. Never mind your grandparents; that’s ancient history. As little as 30 years ago, if you were 50, you were most likely in the final job of your career, totally out of the career planning stage and coasting home. Not any more, friends.

Now, lest you consider all this ominous, please don’t. In their September 2015 bulletin, AARP’s lead story – rather, a compendium of five offerings – is entitled “Good News for Older Workers: Keep, Change, or Improve Your Job After 50.” Did you notice? They said “Good News.” I suggest you read it. (You do get it, don’t you?)

According to AARP, in 1991, about one worker in 10 planned to stay in the workforce beyond age 65. Today it’s almost four in 10. But that’s what respondents say are their plans. Lots of things happen in that period of time, which suggests to me that it’s a good idea for everyone in this age category – not just the four in 10 – to do some long-term career planning.

The first reality for the older worker who wants to stay in the workforce is that, with age, there are certain things we can’t or don’t want to do any longer (physically demanding work, 14-hour days, extensive travel, in-house politics) – and certain things we can do better than ever and want to do forever (mentoring, brain work, strategic planning, socially conscious work, and so on.) All logical, but here’s the next reality. Many of us can’t jump immediately into these areas. We may need to explore some courses at our community colleges or professional associations. Maybe even go for another degree. Perhaps we should be positioning ourselves within our organization – now – to widen our areas of expertise, maybe even finding a mentor who can help us become mentors.

To deal with all these good things, the starting point is the question “What would I like to do?” You can afford this kind of thinking, you deserve this luxury, and you should embrace this possibility. In fact, it was exactly at the age of 50 – 18½ years ago – that I did exactly that, establishing myself as the independent career coach I am today – and who I plan to be for some time. For God sake, that’s the longest-term career planning I ever did, now that I think of it.

Next, take stock of your strengths, of which you have many; you’ll have to sell yourself based on this. To do this, I suggest two things: (1) Watch “The Intern,” the new movie with Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. We saw it opening night. It’s a delight, a little over-the-top feel-good in parts, but it makes a great case for the older worker and the retirement career, and (2) Google “Eli Amdur 50 for 50” and read the most widely circulated column in my 12+ years writing here. Do these two things and you’ll convince yourself and, more importantly others, of your value to your next employer.

Deciding what you’d like to do, determining what you need to do to get there, assessing where you’d fit (areas of job growth, for example), evaluating and articulating your value, and finding an objective third party as a sounding board (critically important) are your first five steps in your latest iteration of long-term career planning.

Yeah. It really is good news.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150920 – What to expect from a career coach

Interesting phenomenon: what a difference half a decade makes!

In the depths of the Great Recession, with millions in career distress – real distress, the likes of which we hadn’t seen in our lifetimes – virtually all the calls coming into my office carried the highest urgency, needing immediate career remediation, intervention, even rescue. Logically, there was much short-term concern (“I need a job NOW!”); longer term thinking would just have to wait.

Now, however, the time for long-term thinking has arrived, and that’s not just me assuming that. Now the calls are different, and are showing me how the thinking has changed. Many calls now are from people currently and – relatively speaking – securely employed. (You know how that goes, right?) And more often than not, it’s no longer simply “Can you do my resume?” (I can.) It’s now about expectations, processes, deliverables, coaching relationships, and so on, questions like “What can I expect from a career coach?” and “What will our relationship be like?”

When you’re overboard in the sea and need someone to throw a lifesaver, you don’t ask those questions; you just grab the lifesaver. When you’re on more solid ground, those are exactly the questions to ask. And now everyone, it seems, is asking them. Hallelujah!

So to explain, I thought I’d lift a few words from the introduction in my 2011 book, It’s Not So Far From Here to There. I gave it a lot of thought then and feel even stronger about it now. So here, in part, is my answer:
I’ve coached thousands of people, delivered workshops to tens of thousands, and written articles which have been read by millions. Yet every single person makes a unique impression on me. That’s how I learn. This coaching thing is much more intuitive than you might think. It’s a distinctly right-brained process.

But is also imprecise.

Career coaching is more an art than a science; it is more intuitive than it is empirical; it works more on hunches and accumulated experience than on proofs and strictly rational systems of thought. Career coaches who consider themselves scientists are fooling themselves. We are, hopefully, artists – and when we do our jobs well, we produce good work.

But it is imprecise.

As such, this state of being requires mutual faith – a kind of partnership in belief between the coach and the coached, a shared vision toward which both work. Both must subscribe. Both must be comfortable with the unknown, with ambiguity, with uncertainty. But both must be optimistic, hopeful, and proactive.
And while this remains imprecise, it works.

Half a century ago, Harold Geneen, CEO and chairman of ITT when it was the largest conglomerate in the world, said, “Leadership cannot be taught; it can only be learned.” Today, it’s the same thing with coaching.
In the business of careers and jobs, there are only three types of roles anyone can ever play: the job seeker, the person who hires the job seeker, and someone in the middle (coach, counselor, recruiter, staffer, etc.).
Over the course of my career, which began nearly a half century ago, I’ve played all three roles:

•I’d been a job candidate more times than I should have been, so the advice I offer is as much a result of learning from dumb mistakes I’ve made as it is from coming up with a brilliant Einstein-like discovery. I’m still working on that part.

•For 30 years I hired people – lots of people – all over the country. I’ve seen the best and worst of candidates, and can tell you why the best are best and the worst are worst.

•And in the middle, well, I’ve done recruiting (both internal and external), staffing, and now the coaching, which I always did within organizations and now have done for the past [18] years independently.

This has given me an unusual perspective, and I try to pass that perspective along to you.

Over the last [18] years, I’ve coached people from 17 to 82 years old (yes, 82 – really); from the executive suite to the assembly line; from the classroom to the boardroom; from the military and law enforcement to the ex-con looking for a new start; from the private sector to the public and non-profit sectors; from construction and manufacturing to biotech and “green”; from science and medicine to sports and leisure; from logistics and transportation to journalism and publishing. I coached people in dozens of industries, with hundreds of job titles and thousands of job descriptions.

I’ve learned from each one – and it has given me a perspective I could have gotten nowhere else.

What I’ve learned as a career coach – more than anything else – is that success almost never comes in one giant leap, but almost always as a result of small steps. As Lao-Tzu said 2,500 years ago, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That’s still true, and if you apply that to your career – no matter how tough things get (the last decade certainly was as tough as it gets) – then you come to the conclusion that “It’s Not So Far From Here To There.”

That’s it, friends. It may not be what you can expect from every career coach, but it surely is what you can expect from at least one.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150913 – Sea change from short-term layoffs to long-term hiring

Here’s the thing about good times: you have to make the most of them. You have to be on top of your game, even more so than in bad times.

And we’re in one of those good times right now, an extremely interesting time, to boot. The job market has done a full one-eighty from where it was in its deepest, darkest days just about seven years ago: 65 consecutive months of private sector job growth, 13 million jobs created (in all sectors, by the way), unemployment at its lowest rate in seven and a half years, and on and on and on.

But for more than one reason, you don’t need me to feed you those numbers: (1) I’ve been at it for quite some time now anyway, (2) you can get a bright seventh grader to look them up for you in ten minutes, and (3) it’s no longer the numbers that matter. The trend lines are so strong and have sustained themselves so predictably, that the numbers are now just the backdrop for the real story, a story that’s not made up of numbers at all, in fact.
What I’m about to relate comes from my observations and conclusions over the last several years of watching – very carefully – not just who’s hiring and who’s getting hired, but how and why these landings are taking place. Watch something long enough, concentrate hard enough, think critically, and be ready to recognize patterns and trends – and guess what. Discovery!

That’s why I said we’re in an extremely interesting time. Based on more elements that I’d have room for in my next book (hmmm…), let alone relate here, I do believe I spotted something intriguing, namely, when employers were downsizing by laying off millions in a “down” market, they were doing it for the short term, but now that they’re hiring in an “up” market, particularly this one, they’re hiring for the long term. And you better believe they’re going to be looking for the best possible candidates they can find…for the long term.

I am totally convinced of this and totally committed to it.

Why? The feedback I’m getting from employers with whom I interact frequently (both large and small firms), from candidates who landed (and what they told me went on in their interviews), from reports and surveys, and from other career professionals with whom I hang out, is all pointing to this “long term” mentality and behavior. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the job market right now, and while we may not be in the absolute best of times, we sure are headed in that direction.

And that means one thing. If employers are hiring for the long term, you must give them the reason to decide that you’re the one worth the ;long-term investment. Think about that for a minute. Over the last decade, almost no one was thinking in terms of long-term employment; just getting a job (“I’ll take anything”) was the “only port in a storm” we sought. It’s very different now.

The upshot of it all is simple. If employers are taking the long view, they want quality. Real quality. They want candidates with all the great job skills, and they’re finding them by vetting candidates that have all their career skills in great shape: resumes, profiles, interviewing strategies, job search strategies, credentials, and so on. And that’s where you have to take the bull by the horns and make absolutely sure you’re going to be a stronger, more competitive candidate, the one who will stand out in what has turned out to be a bustling crowd of optimistic job seekers. One hiring manager (who asked for anonymity because “we can’t keep up with all the resumes and calls we’re already getting”) told me in simple terms, “The most sweeping change in our hiring and in our management culture has been toward long-term hiring and retention.” Retention!

Sweet, no? After all these rough years, that’s sweet.

But it’s not going to come to you; you still have to go get it – and be the best one at doing so. And therein lies one of my observations, simple as it may be: when opportunities multiply, expectations rise. The more possibilities there are, the better the candidate you have to be, and that’s why you have to be on top of your game even more so than in bad times.

To that end – and because I fully believe that now is the time (if I may borrow that hallowed phrase) – I will be holding the 2015 version of my “Complete Career Workshop Series” – four two-hour sessions on each Wednesday evening of October that will focus on (1) smart job search strategies; (2) resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles; (3) interviewing strategies and skills (with the emphasis on strategies); and (4) career networking. Please visit my Web site, which you can find at the bottom of this column, for detailed information.
The goal of this four-part series is to make you – here we go again – a stronger, more competitive candidate in all facets – and that every tool in your bag is sharp.

Because when opportunity knocks, it doesn’t wait around too long for your answer.

October is right around the corner.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150621 – Where are we going and why are we going there?

Quick! What’s the most common undergraduate degree in America? Graduate degree? The answer to both questions is…Business (2011-12 academic year, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics in the Digest of Education Statistics). Now, what was the answer in 1971? Social and Behavioral Sciences for undergrad (Education was a very close second) and Education by a long shot at the graduate level. Business was nowhere near the top.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to tell you what I think about that, not as an educator (although I’ll accept “damn good teacher,” thank you), not as a sociologist, not as an economist, not as a demographer (all of whom compile statistics and then chew them up and spit them back out into more piles of data), but as a simple career coach who (a) watches the job market closely, (b) tries to interpret data, not just analyze it, (c) is willing to connect dots and tell you what I see, and (d) cares deeply. With that backdrop, I am less than thrilled to file this article today.

Everyone agrees on two grand statements. One, the role of education in 21st century America is in question. Do we educate or train? Do we develop well-rounded, classically educated human beings or offer job training and call it a college degree?

Two, the state of education, by all accounts, is in crisis. While we’re awarding more degrees, we’re lagging in all manner of global competitiveness assessments. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that the U.S., once first in educational attainment (HS diploma or more), is now fifth, and worse, only 21st in student skills, as measured by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Also, according to Global Public Square, the U.S. once led the world in college graduates, but no longer does. Americans age 55 to 64 still have more college degrees per capita (41 percent) than their peers in other nations. However, while that number has flat-lined and is the same for Americans age 25 to 34, 15 nations have pulled ahead in the younger category. Our Gen Y-ers, as it turns out, now rank #16.

This is mortifying from the point of view of this career coach who happens to look at this through a global lens. Bluntly, even though we’re trying to protect American jobs through laws that make it hard (in many cases, impossible) for non-residents to get and keep employment here, by handing degrees to people who can’t perform at the levels today’s globally competitive job market demands, it doesn’t much matter.

Now, up to here, you might already know these statistics. But a more granular inspection leads me to some observations that, as a career coach, I hope will give you pause as you plan your career and even the educational paths and subsequent careers your kids choose. The overarching concern is not how many degrees we’re conferring, but what degrees they are – and what that means.

For every 100 undergraduate degrees issued in 1971 (U.S. population was 208 million), there were 213 in 2012 (population 314 million). In the process, though, degrees in Education dropped from 21.0 percent of all degrees to 5.9 percent, and Social and Behavioral Sciences from 23.0 to 16.1. But degrees in Business rose from 13.7 to 20.5 (this peaked in 1986 at 24.0). Startling!

It’s even more dramatic at the graduate level. For every 100 graduate degrees in 1971, there are now 322. Education was at a dominant 37.2 percent of all Master’s degrees; it is now at 23.6. Business, on the other hand, grew from 11.2 percent to 25.4 percent. And while total graduate degrees jumped by a multiple of 3.22, graduate Business degrees jumped by an eye-opening multiple of 7.23! While all this was going on, here’s what happened in other fields as a percent of total graduate degrees. Humanities, down; Social and Behavioral Sciences, down; Natural Sciences, down; Computer Sciences and Engineering, very slightly up, but down from the 1986 peak.

In other words, everybody’s going to business schools all over the place and (here’s my cents) not necessarily for noble reasons. Many majors in business – economics, finance, accounting – continue to be in the top ten lists for highest paid, the top reason of choice given in many surveys. But I don’t see the state of business, humanity, or world affairs being any better than at any time in the past. And further, I don’t see business degree holders in general presenting much evidence of understanding world events – climate change, poverty, disease eradication, clean water, alliances, migration, innovation, and even education itself – and how (a) these will affect business and (b) how business should take leadership roles in these areas – not from a business point of view, from a humanistic point of view.

Here’s the irony. Science changes the world but not until business says so. As a result, the kinds of decisions that have to be made to elevate humanity, improve quality of life, and save the planet, are likely to be made by generations with narrow focus, limited training, and no grounding in the humanities.

Think that over when planning your career choices or your studies. “Where are we going and why are we going there?” is a legitimate question.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150614 – Your future depends on how you look at it.

During my weekly Sunday reading a few weeks ago, I came across this headline: “Many Gen X-ers say future looks less than rosy.”

Not what I’d call optimism.

The article got darker from there. “Generation X [born 1964 to 1982] has serious doubts it can ever save enough to one day stop working,” referencing a study done by Allianz Life Insurance that revealed that 84 percent of Gen X feel that retiring at 65 and embarking on a life of leisure is “a bygone fantasy.” In other words, they envision having some kind of work-related facet of their lives from age 65 on.

Additionally, a whopping 68 percent of Gen X-ers believe they will never have enough saved to quit working, and 67 percent say traditional financial targets for retirement no longer are realistic. “They are feeling overwhelmed,” said Katie Libbe, an Allianz Life vice president.

Overwhelmed! Sad. I know things have changed and they’ll never change back, but the pessimism was just dripping of the page, along with monstrously negative attitudes.

So I’m here to tell ya’, as the old pitchmen used to say, that there’s another way to look at this. Anything in life depends on how you look at it. As long as I’ve been writing here (and for all my life, for that matter) I’ve espoused the benefits of a positive attitude and eschewed any activities that even remotely resemble complaining.

General Dwight Eisenhower used to say, “Pessimism never won any battle.” And my mother, who was the most resolute woman I’ve ever known and someone who endured many difficulties and tragedies, always used to say, “I don’t have the right, the need, the desire, or the time to complain about anything. “There’s so much I can do instead.”

So yeah, Gen X lost more money during the Great Recession than any other generation,
and yeah, it was hard to keep or regain employment, and yeah the rules of the game have changed. So? That’s reality, and accepting reality – and deciding to do something with it – is the first step to a good attitude.

With a positive attitude, creative thinking, and acceptance of change, this becomes less of a problem and more of an opportunity. Problems are nothing more than opportunities poorly dressed, and agreeing with that is the next step in attitude change. After that, how about seeing how you can make lemonade out of lemons?

For example, retiring at 65 was your grandfather’s dream. But your grandfather’s life expectancy was also 68. For those of us who are Boomers or Gen X-ers, 85 is more like it, so what’s wrong with working longer? Furthermore, social security age is rising and will continue to do so, which is OK with most of us Boomers because, among other things, we like to work. Why? We like: (a) staying active and busy, (b) giving back, (c) having meaning, (d) finding new challenges, and (e) making money. So if it’s OK with us Boomers, get with it, Gen X. This is nothing to complain about; it’s actually a reason to smile. That, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is what a good attitude looks like, and with it, there are no more problems. Just opportunities.

As for the fourth reason – (d) new challenges – that’s another talking point. You know all those new technologies we all have to master just to stay employed? They’re fun! And, at the bottom of it all, isn’t the simple act of learning fun? OK, so nothing is like it was – not the workplace, not your required skill sets, not business conditions and competition, not social structures, nothing. But, as has been attributed to more people than you can shake a stick at, “The future ain’t what it used to be – and it never was.”

So you have two choices. You can wrestle with that or you can embrace it. I choose the latter, and suggest you do the same. My 68th birthday was two days ago and my 65th flew by without one second’s thought of retiring or even slowing down. And you know what? I’ve never had more fun doing this thing called work in my life, my career now spanning 47 years.

Nor have I ever been busier. I do four things to make a living. I’m a career coach, corporate consultant, teacher (two graduate leadership courses at FDU), and columnist (I will, next month, begin my 13th year writing for you). That’s a lot going on, and it’s certainly not what I thought I’d be doing (who could picture this when he’s 20-something?), but it’s also better than anything I ever could have imagined doing. And it’s rosier than many X-ers see their future. And I’m not overwhelmed.

Maybe that’s just how I look at things, just my nature, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to try it on for size.

So, once again, I’m here to tell ya’. Stop being overwhelmed and start figuring out what’s going on. Stop using the word “problem” and start substituting the word “opportunity.” Stop being pessimistic and start putting plus signs on things. Stop hanging on to what’s gone and start navigating the road ahead.

Because, quite simply, your future depends on how you look at it.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150607 – 21 Critical Traits for the 21st Century – A reprise

Five years ago, the leadership team of one of my corporate client (CEO, SVP of HR, etc.) asked me to lead a retreat to talk about the future and how to get there: two of the most mind-stretching, stimulating days of my professional life.

Among other discussions, we asked: To what kinds of people will we hand over the company? What will they be like? What will they be capable of doing? How will they succeed?

Delicious stuff, right? The centerpiece was a meaty list of critical traits (not skills) without which 21st century leaders workers will not succeed. I published a long essay on it.

Well, what do you know? I’ve been invited back to revisit and continue the discussion: a follow-up, a reality check. We all agreed the conclusions were right at the time, remain spot on, and will continue to be relevant throughout the 21st century.

That being so, I thought it prudent to synopsize that essay here – as a blueprint, if you will, of the successful, competitive, happy, and meaningful denizen of the 21st century.

1. Multi-talented – not limited to one specialty. The days of succeeding by being good at one thing only are over. That’s not to say you should be a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. It means being jack-of many-trades-master-of one. Or of a couple, really. So get good at a lot of things and really good at (at least) one.

2. Determined, persistent, stubborn, committed. As opportunities increase so do challenges. You’ll need to learn how not to give up, to see things through.

3. Purpose-driven – on a personal mission. How sad it is that so many people wake up each morning and don’t know why. You need a reason, and the closer it’s associated with something bigger than yourself, the more likely you’ll have a meaningful career.

4. Altruistic – pledged to the larger organization, a larger cause. If your purpose is only you or your family, you’re falling short. You need a cause outside yourself toward which you work.

5. Decisive – calling on resources to make crisp decisions. This is critical thinking, nothing less, but it doesn’t mean bullheadedness (“often wrong but never uncertain”). It means confidence in your decision-making process and willingness to change or alter when needed.

6. Curious – continuously interested in and engaged with what’s around you. “Curiosity,” said Akio Morita, Sony’s founder, “is the key to creativity.” And …

7. Creative – able to see new things, think new thoughts. “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein, and it’s more relevant now than when he said it. More new ideas, discoveries, inventions, and fundamental changes have emerged in the first decade of this century than in all centuries before it. Unwillingness or inability to grasp, accept, and act upon newness is a recipe for failure.

8. Empathetic – able to see others’ situations. A feeling of kinship with the human race. We are increasingly intertwined, and so are our problems and opportunities. This is more relevant to career development than ever before.

9. Democratic in character structure – fair and open. Stop thinking you have – or can come up with – all the answers. You cannot, nor can anyone any more. Try coming up with the right questions and finding the people who can answer them. Get your ego out of this.

10. Willing to think – not afraid of mental exercise. Less and less will be handed to you; you’ll have to sort things out. Einstein also said, “We think we are thinking, when all we are doing is rearranging our prejudices.”

11. Planned and prepared – ready for what comes, proactive in thought and action.

12. Broadly educated and keenly aware – 360 degrees. Narrow training will work against you. A broad-based liberal arts education wrapped around a specialty is how you will succeed.

13. Comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and change. You’re going to see an awful lot of it, so get used to it. That’s not a threat; it’s an opportunity.

14. Accountable to yourself – and then to others. It doesn’t work the other way.

15. A team leader – but understanding “shared leadership.” One of the great leadership concepts of the last couple of decades is that leadership can – and should be – a shared.

16. A clear, efficient perception of reality – and a strong, comfortable relationship with it. Your big challenge is: what’s real? It is not easy to be objective, but we have no choice.

17. Problem centered outside oneself. Thinking holistically, seeing the big picture.

18. Autonomous and independent. You want and need the freedom to effectuate your own ideas. If the place you work isn’t built that way, look elsewhere.

19. Wildly optimistic. It’s easy to see the glass as half empty, but pessimists never solved a problem, saw an opportunity, invented anything, or moved themselves and humanity forward.

20. A non-hostile sense of humor – playfully engaged with the world. You should be having fun.

21. Inductive. Right-brainers will understand the 21st century. Left-brainers might not. The pace and scope of 21st century change has defined it as the “Right-Brain Century.” The inductive thinker who says “What’s going on here?” will figure out what’s actually going on here. Nobody’s handing out road maps any more. You’ll need to think creatively and inductively along with logically and deductively.
Have a nice century!

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150531 – How to get – and stay – ahead at work

Two years and two months ago, when the job market was already proving it was well (though there were still many doubters), this column said “How to get – and stay – ahead at work.” The focus, obviously, shifted from getting jobs to keeping jobs: a far better state of affairs, indeed, than what existed for the previous five years.

Well, here we are, 26 happy months later, and nearly six million more people are working than at that time. That, along with numerous phone calls and emails I receive that all say the same thing – namely, now that I got that job, what do I do to keep it? – suggest I dust off and update that article. For at least six million more of you, it’s now relevant.

It’s simple, really. Put yourself in the shoes of your employer. What does an employer look for in an employee? What makes you a keeper? The way I look at it, there are ten things.

It’s not personal; it’s interpersonal. First – and clearly the most important – is to continue to develop your soft skills. Communication skills – writing, speaking, presentation, nonverbal, cross-cultural, and listening skills – are the most desired characteristics in the corporate world, according to survey after survey, and right behind that is the ability to work well within a team setting. Other interpersonal skills of all sorts – like mentoring, coaching, motivation, and synergistic decision making – also play big.

Burn to learn. Continue your overall education. Get an advanced degree or certificates, accumulate CEUs, go to workshops and seminars, keep learning about your industry through research and industry and professional associations, and keep abreast of the news.

Become excellent at something. Of course we’d all like to be good at a lot of things (and, over time, we will), but being excellent – really top notch – at something (sales, graphic arts, accounting, training – whatever) is critical. Rainmakers, for the most part, get hired and
rainmakers keep their jobs.

Do more than you’re supposed to. Volunteer for assignments (committees, task forces), especially ones that let you demonstrate your leadership potential and skills. Those extra projects or the ones others don’t want to undertake are where you show both your aptitude and your attitude – and where you gain altitude. And while you’re at it, dress for the job above yours. While you’re getting noticed for doing so much, let them see you as the professional they want to move up.

Keep networking. Networking got you here; it will also keep getting you places while you’re here. Network internally and seek out learning experiences within the company. Look for a mentor and ask advice. See which departments or teams in your company interest you and take the initiative to ask an executive in each how you can learn more. Show an interest in them, and they’ll develop an interest in you. Senior executives are always on the lookout for “up-and-comers,” those employees they feel could fit into a succession plan.

Make yourself quietly and consistently visible. Executives arrive early and stay late so wouldn’t it make sense to put in extra time at 7:45 AM or 6:00 PM? I’m not suggesting being a workaholic or burning the midnight oil, but at least showing up early and hitting the ground running speaks volumes. No sucking up to anyone, here; just exhibiting a highly desirable – and noticeable – trait: a strong work ethic.

Develop your right-brain, creative thinking. I’ve said it over and over: creativity is your only sustainable asset, as it is for corporations as well. But it’s still rare, and executives know it. Those who can think in new ways will exponentially increase their value. It takes courage to be creative, but it is rapidly becoming the most important trait of all.

Aim high. “Not failure, but low aim is the crime,” said James Russell Lowell, one of America’s “Fireside Poets” of the 19th century. And “It’s OK to have your head in the clouds as long as you have your feet on the ground,” said my mother, Miriam, a pretty smart character herself. There is a caveat here, though, as you don’t want to be seen as a power-grabber or as being obsequious (“kissing up and kicking down”); you just want to demonstrate your desire and ability to play a bigger role in – and make a bigger contribution to – the organization.

Do for others. Be involved in your community. Corporate social responsibility is more to the forefront than ever before, so be there with your organization as it reaches out. Many organizations look for and retain employees who support the organization’s community outreach. This is a big deal; don’t overlook it.

“Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts.” (Albert Einstein: who else?) At work, at least in most workplaces, the intangible things go a long way: attitude, empathy, collaboration, creativity, a smile, non-hostile humor, praise, appreciation, chocolate. (Seriously: ever see someone with chocolate in a bad mood?) You can’t measure these things (well, OK, chocolate), but they are very, very important. On the other side of the coin, those obsessive-compulsive performance review matrices can be awfully stifling and, as a result, amount to just a bunch of statistical wallpaper. So make the things that can’t be counted count.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150524 – Now that you’ve graduated: Networking 101

Three weeks ago, this column’s headline read, “Congratulations, graduate. Now what?” The discussion was all about being proactive in your career and in your job search. Inherent in being proactive is networking, and much was made of it in the article.

However, even though I said I was writing because I’d seen too many recent or soon-to-be graduates who had never visited their college career centers and, therefore, that this might all be new to many younger people, I was still surprised by the volume of emails I got asking for more specifics about networking. Truth be known, by the end of the Sunday of that column, the emails had mounted. It turns out this was prompted by one statement in particular in the article, that professional networking is a whole lot different from the kind of social networking on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest. These things, I explained, tend to be casual, personal, impulsive, spontaneous, reactive, and – often – silly. (OK, in its place.) Professional networking, on the other hand, is a planned, methodical, consistent, never-ending state of being, and those with the best managed careers will confirm that. And then I explained that the cardinal rule of networking, as my colleagues and I always say, is “A.B.C. – Always Be Connecting.”

All well and good, but the numbers of inquiries by the end of that Sunday – like, “Please tell me exactly what I should be doing to be a good networker?” – made it unequivocally clear that today’s column is necessary.

So, beyond the “A.B.C.” rule, there are sound networking strategies, but first let’s establish fundamentally what networking is (and is not). Bluntly, networking is not running around like a chicken without a head, calling everyone you know when you need a job. Yet that’s about the extent of it for many people. That’s not networking; it’s begging. Networking is relationship building. It’s creating a support group in which you offer as much or more support than you get. And, at its best, networking is a proactive method of career planning and career development in which you take total control. Repeat: total control. You can plan every facet of networking and leave nothing to chance. Are there unexpected variables? Yes, but with a good networking plan, that’s what they’re relegated to: nothing but variables. Got it? Now here are seven networking strategies.

1. Identify and use all your resources. Who’s in your network? Identify friends, family, friends of family, family of friends, classmates, roommates, coworkers, professors, and so on. These are all connections you’ve made; keep them alive.

2. Join and go. Good networking means belonging to viable, relevant organizations – alumni associations, industry associations, professional associations, civic groups, recreational teams, and volunteer organizations. It also means devoting the time to go to regular meetings, participate in events (and organize when you can), attending conferences and trade shows, and generally getting yourself out there and making yourself visible.

3. Never break the chain. It’s easy to lose contact with someone; it takes work to keep it going. So keep it going. Actually, it’s not that difficult, especially if you adopt networking as a mind-set, a lifestyle. For instance, my “Six-Month Rule” says to make contact with or receive contact from people central to my network at least twice a year. It’s pretty easy, really, by making sure that each day you make two calls or send two emails – five or ten minutes – and that amounts to regular contact with nearly 400 people. Piece of cake.

4. Help first, then get help. If you expect networking to be all about who can do what for you, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s a two-way street, but now think of how much someone will do for you if you’ve already extended yourself for them, especially when you do it with no expectation of return. Reach out, volunteer, refer people to each other, make introductions. Think of others, in other words.

5. Fill your tool bag. Things you should have at your disposal at all times are a positive attitude (this time it’s “A.B.P. – Always Be Positive”), a professional wardrobe, a good snappy elevator speech, personal business cards, a professional email address, a great A+ resume, a complete and strong LinkedIn profile, and strong references. A full tool-bag.

6. Think big and think small. Yes, people in power (the higher-ups) can help you, but so can just about anyone who wants to. You’d be surprised at just how much help us little guys can be for each other. It’s not just the big dog that counts.

7. Go for quality, not just quantity. Too many people think that the more connections they have, the better their networking will be. Nonsense! Of course your network should be far-reaching, but one strong, quality, ongoing connection is better than 10 I’d-like-you-to-join- my-professional-network “strangers.”

So there you have it. Millions more words can be, and for certain will be, written on networking – and millions already have – but you’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s always good to start anything by thinking about it and strategizing first. These seven strategies ought to get you off to a good start, but remember, it’s up to you to keep it going.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com