Monthly Archives: February 2008

Three ways to build credibility as a 20-something

This post was originally published at Qvisory.

As a twenty-something in the workforce, you will be questioned time after time. Here are three ways to build credibility:

1. Develop skills that travel.

Most likely, you’ll change jobs 6-8 times before your thirty. You need to develop a set of talents that will travel with you from job to job. Career coaches call these transferable skill sets (e.g. communication, interpersonal, and management skills).  Essentially, the skills you’ve been developing since grade school. Consistently developing these abilities will not only open the door to any job you want, but will make you successful wherever you go.

2. Hug thy naysayer.

Generation Y wants to be liked. We grew up being coddled by our parents, and frankly think we’re the best thing on earth and like to be told so. Not everyone agrees with us however, and a lot more don’t even like us.

While it’s important not to get wrapped up in what others think, you need to build relationships, even with the people bringing you down. Learning to deal with criticism effectively is about knowing yourself, who you are, and what your motivations are for working.

The next step is to develop mutual respect. When comments get heated on my blog, I often email the person and talk to them individually. I say thank you a lot, even when their thoughts make me want to scream. I appreciate that they’ve taken the time to respond to what I had to say. It’s best to engage in conversation when all the players are at the table. That’s how you learn.

3.  Don’t work harder, work smarter.

When a twenty-something doesn’t show up to the office at 9 AM, the rest of the world worries.  But our generation works differently. Make sure it’s in your contract that your performance isn’t based on when you show up to work, but if you get the job done. And if you want to wear jeans to work every day, say so. Be upfront about how you can add the most value.  You’ll work better if you’re able to choose how you are productive, and your results will speak for themselves.

Stacked deck

Trying to stack in my favor

How I got my dream job (and survived)

This post about going from bottom to top was inspired by this comment. Thanks, Milena!

I walked in and almost everyone was sitting down, and the speakers were close, shoulder to shoulder. It was so hot and sticky outside, I went to the bathroom to freshen before sitting down near the door, lest the presentation be boring and I should want to leave in the middle.

Big Brother was the moderator of the panel, and I had seen him in the press, but never in person. After the event, we somehow managed to walk out at the same time. He said hello to me, in that special way he has, gleaming with charisma.

Much later we sat at a coffee shop, and I saw him repeat this behavior with other people who stared at him, as people often do. And I must have been staring too, because I remember the way that I felt was that my future was intrinsically and inexplicably linked to this man.

I couldn’t have known then that we would eventually sit in a car together as he expertly handled a disastrous situation. Or that we would have flurries of text conversations at nine o’clock at night. Or that he would be the one of the few people who could simultaneously inject fear and ambition into my dreams, that he would be one of the few to infuriate and inspire me all at once.

At the time, I was confused and unhappy. What I thought was supposed to be my dream job wasn’t working out and I felt claustrophobic in an invisible box, like a mime putting on a bad show.

I had a ridiculous time getting up in the morning, often rising out of bed just fifteen minutes before I was supposed to be sitting in my office chair. A three minute walk from where I lived. I didn’t really tell anyone at the time, not my boyfriend, or even my mother.

And little did I know things were only going to get worse, much worse, before they got better.

Eventually, it was mutually agreed upon that it would be best if I left my job, which sounds better than being fired, and it was just two or three days before Thanksgiving.

I felt a huge sense of relief, and full from a big plate of humble pie, I applied for and started my next job a short two weeks later. And then, a short two months after that, my body decided to send me to the emergency room. The day that I got out of the hospital, my boyfriend broke up with me.

It’s a strange feeling, hitting bottoms you never knew existed. But what’s even stranger is the wherewithal you find in yourself to keep going. That night, I cried on the shoulders of two of my friends, but in part of my head – the part that was growing an antidote to my flair for drama – I also thought that it was no big deal.

I needed to get healthy. I needed to get a paycheck to eat. I needed to figure things out.

So, I did that. With no other choice, it was remarkably easy.

I won’t describe much more about my second job because, in short, I loved it, and it’s difficult to write about such happiness without sounding absurdly corny. Suffice to say, the job was like a retreat for my career, and the organization I worked for was tremendously good to me.

So it was a surprise to everyone, most of all myself, when I started to feel restless later that year, and into the next. Seemingly losing it all made me remember I wanted much more.

That’s when I started this blog. Actually, I started a different one where I posted bad prose that I had written, and told around three people to go read it. Then I started this blog. And I told everyone in my address book to read it.

See, here’s the thing. When you put yourself out there for all to see, when you make yourself vulnerable, and you’re taking a big risk, and you’re doing all this because you can’t think of doing anything else, people will rally behind you. They will support you. Because people like to see others succeed. The universe will conspire in your favor.

The rush of this risk was so big, and the potential payoff so great, that I started to take more risks. I acted in a play where I learned the lines just eight hours earlier. I went skiing for the first time, fell on my butt, and got back up again. I learned sushi was the best food ever.

Oh, and I applied for my dream job and got it.

I don’t want to make it seem that I went through this big transformation over a short period and I know everything now. I didn’t and I don’t.

Let me be clear. It was really the years before this one, and those before that, which set me up to succeed. But eventually, you reach a tipping point and things begin to flow in your favor.

The pace since that’s happened has been like a water slide at a water park. The ride down is fast, scary, and exhilarating, and once you’ve reached the bottom, you can’t wait to make the long, hot and sticky crowded climb back to the top and do it all over again.

Because now I have an entirely new set of challenges and struggles that I face. I work hard, but also strategically and intelligently. And Big Brother, who seemed untouchable to me a couple years ago, is now one of my many mentors.

Dreams = Reality

Figuring out your next career move without settling

Penelope Trunk’s latest post on steps to figuring out your next career move only makes sense because most people don’t want the responsibility of change. They will read what she has to say, feel a bit uncertain, but will nod along anyway.

This is good for those people, most people. Most people either don’t have the balls or are not well-equipped to do what they want.

The can cross off the “career-equivalent of winning the lottery,” because that dream was making them feel anxious anyway. And while they love to write, they can see that it gives them some sort of peace to admit that they may not really love it if they never make time for it. They’re good to go with the cubicle.

This is all okay. It’s called settling. And it’s a viable option. A good one that will make you happy.

Some others, well, they’re not settling. They are different from most people. This is the group that seems to find the prize in the cereal box every time. They’re leaning into the wind and winning, and the book industry is making a good deal off the fact that most people want to be just like them.

Along with the crowd that is Oprah, I’m currently reading, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, in which the author predictably states that the book, “can only awaken those who are ready.”

It is both a shame and a triumph that the most banal statements are always the most obvious, the most difficult, and the most necessary.

The only way you can be ready is if you’re ruthlessly transparent, authentic and honest. In the book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge argues that a commitment to truth is a “restless willingness to root out the ways we limit or deceive ourselves from seeing what is, and to continually challenge our theories of why things are the way they are.”

This is much different than knowing that you’re afraid to talk to your crush because you have unrealistic expectations of the happy movie ending.

Rather, it’s an advocacy and inquiry that rivals trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or if you’d prefer, finding the one good-looking guy at the bar on a Friday night.

There is a shortcut, the sound of settling. It’s comfortable like a blanket over your shoulders, spaghetti in your stomach, sex in the dark.

Settling leads to mediocrity. It’s the acceptance of the “good enough” status quo.

Successful people know that the gap between our vision and current reality “can make us feel hopeless. But the gap is also a source of energy,” Senge argues. “Truly creative people use the gap between vision and current reality to generate energy for change.”

In encouraging yourself to rely more on your concepts of reality, rather than your observations, and in discarding your dreams and goals in order to be realistic, to settle, you lose this creative tension.

That’s why Generation Y is uniquely positioned to create real change in our next career move. We’re idealistic and yet keenly aware of the world’s scorecard. We understand, as Senge argues, that “the juxtaposition of the two, the dream and the present reality, [is] the real force for change.”

Fall into the gap.

Listen to free podcast about my organization and Gen Y issues!

I was on a local radio show on Tuesday, Madison 1670 The Pulse, On Air with In Business Magazine, talking about my organization and a lot of Generation Y and Generation X issues.

A big thank you to Joan Gillman of the University of Wisconsin School of Business, and Jody Glynn Patrick, Publisher of In Business Magazine for inviting me to be on the show!

You can listen to the free podcast here. (A direct link to the free download, where you can listen in your browser or download the audio. A full list of available podcasts from the program is available here.)

Check it out… you can tell when I stop being nervous when I stop talking so fast.

Let me know what you think!

I voted here today!

I voted here today

The humble beginnings of a twice-baked potato

The humble beginnings of a twice-baked potato

5 networking tips for the real world (including the Holy Grail)

Update: This post was also published at Damsels in Success.

Recently, more of my time is spent meeting with people who request to meet with me, instead of the other way around. Here’s some advice from being on the other side:

1) Give me a compelling reason to answer you. A lot of networking advice tells you to just check in with someone so that you’re on their mind.

But this sucks for busy people.

When you receive hundreds of emails a week, an email that “checks in” is like a nag draining you to do the dishes. That’s because while the email needs to be answered it becomes the lowest priority out of all the rest.

That email subsequently makes me feel guilty, sits in my inbox until the end of the week, and by the time I have time to answer it with something nice and charming, I’m exhausted.

So please, don’t check in with me unless you’re family.

Instead, tell me why you’re writing. Be interesting. Tell me that you were just in the paper, or that you’re working on a new project and want my feedback, or how you can help me, or that you just went on a great road trip. Preferably, the shorter and the more value, the better.

Networking is about developing relationships. Act like it.

2) Don’t lead me on. Someone recently tried to schedule a meeting with me, and then proceeded to reschedule the meeting, not once, not twice, but four times.

Now, I reschedule meetings all the time. It’s the nature of the beast. But there comes a point when you should use the etiquette napkin to clean up your act.

I also recently requested information from a piano teacher and found her rate to be quite expensive. When she followed up with me, I told her that it wasn’t in my budget. I could have told her I didn’t have the time, or that I needed to think about it, but being a tease is only acceptable on a Friday night. Outside of that, you’re just annoying.

3) Be specific, but mysterious, and a little humorous. When asking for things like meetings or advice, it’s important to give just the right amount of detail in a succinct manner. Something like, “I’d like to meet with you to learn more about you, tell you about the new idea I have to restructure my organization, and I hear you like blueberry pie, so I know we’ll have lots in common.”

Now I know not only that you’re interested in me, but why you’re talking to me, and I’m excited to meet you. Think of it as email foreplay.

Also, when people offer to pay for my lunch as an incentive to go to a meeting, I love this. Because as I’ve mentioned, I’m on a budget. But if I told the President of some company I would pay for his lunch, not so good. You have to find value in a way that’s important and specific to that person.

Use the internet to find out what might work. You don’t have to say, “I stalked you on Google,” but simply “Oh, I heard you enjoy sushi.”

4) Don’t ask for something I can’t give you. A lot of people email me and ask for things. We all like this, because it makes us feel special and powerful.

But it’s frustrating when you’re asking for something I can’t give you. Don’t ask me to promote your product on my blog when I’ve never promoted products on my blog. Don’t ask me to allow you to “give a talk” on your services when my organization has never allowed that.

There aren’t a lot of lines to cross when you’re asking for help, so you’ll know what’s right and wrong by simply paying attention.

Nobody likes to say no. Make it easy for me to say yes and the conversation will be gravy. In fact, letting me help you in a way that’s easy for me will increase my goodwill towards you. Funny how life works.

5) Tell me how you can help my friends. This is the Holy Grail of networking advice.

There’s only so much that I can do individually for my network and the very nature of having a network is expanding it so that we can all help each other more. Similarly, there’s only so much that a CEO can do for his company, a manager for his employees, and so on.

To that end, I’m always excited when people come to me with opportunities that I can pass on to others in my organization. This is probably even more important than helping me directly, because it makes me look good.

It’s also probably the hardest to do, but if you can pull it off, you’ll be so awesome you can give yourself a gold star.

Networkit.

The most important thing for a decision in politics

Today, I wore a sweatshirt at the same table as someone wearing a suit. Today, I had lunch with someone who I like. He’s intelligent, successful, good-looking. Today, I had lunch with someone who listens to my ideas, and doesn’t agree with me all that much. I respect that.

So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that today, I had lunch with someone who isn’t voting for Barack Obama.

And yet, never has my stomach risen to my heart so violently after eating just a regular ole’ hummus sandwich.

My whole body wanted to reach out and envelop him in all that is Obama.

If this sounds a bit hysterical, it should be.

Unity is not easy. Hope is not rational.

And as much as we’d like it to be, neither is politics.

It would be easy for me to argue for an Obama candidacy on the basis of the issues. I’ve researched those. And if I were voting on issues alone, settling for any one candidate would prove to be easy, because any one candidate is remarkably similar to the next.

But I’m not voting on issues alone.

I’m voting on something entirely more powerful.

That is, the first feeling you get – your gut instinct – which, as it turns out, is remarkably accurate.

We are highly instinctive creatures. We know how to read people and situations for survival, for love, and for power.

A recent study looking at the faces of successful CEOs proves it. The “experiment lends support to a growing argument among psychologists who study decision-making that when people come to quick conclusions without much information, their decisions are often good ones.”

Our human instinct is among our greatest strengths.

It’s why a woman can tell within the first five to ten minutes of meeting a man whether or not she will sleep with him.

It’s why Ryan Healy spent months going over idea after idea for his new company, only to return to his original thought.

It’s why individuals who hone the gift of fear – the most primal of all instincts – are able to save their own lives.

You cannot hide from instinct.

Across the ocean, there are those who use their instinct just like we do, and will look at Barack Obama and notice “first and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy,” argues Andrew Sullivan.

In fact, everything you need to know about Barack Obama is available in his face – his authenticity, first and foremost, and then the change he wishes to create, as well as his imperfections as a leader, husband and father, and his great hope for this country, his wife, and his daughters.

It is for this reason that Generation Y and Generation X have embraced Obama like none other. We know that “authenticity is not the product of manipulation. It accurately reflects aspects of the leader’s inner self, so it can’t be an act,” just as Harvard Business Online reports.

And yet, we have to be weary. Instinct is easily muddied. It can be dragged through lies and panic and deception, much like the sludge seen on the streets of Madison, WI after blizzard, upon winter storm warning, upon wind advisory.

You can call your instinct an evolutionary reaction, or maybe your soul, Nature, the Universe, your heart, or perhaps even God helping you throughout life, but don’t ignore it. Protect it. Learn to trust it.

Know yourself better than anything or anyone to change the world.

My instinct is that Barack Obama is the leader to unite this great country. You don’t have to agree with my gut, but I urge you to listen to your own.

Yes We Can.