Entries in Careers (22)
So, you have an important job interview scheduled, or a big meeting coming up with the boss or with an important client. You’ve done your homework and you’re prepared, primed, and pumped up.
But have you thought about your thinking speed?
We all know that interviews and high-stakes meetings can be very stressful, and when nerves flare up our tendency is to think and talk too fast, leading to our potentially blowing that meeting that we prepared so long and so hard for.
In his best-selling, award-winning book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman takes a deep dive into how we think – and shows us how we can be more effective...simply by slowing down. According to Kahneman, one of the biggest problems is that we tend to -- especially when under stress -- think too fast.
When your brain reacts and responds automatically and instinctively – almost thinking without really thinking, that’s what he calls “thinking fast.” This is how we think most of the time. On the other hand, “thinking slow” is when your brain hits the pause button and takes a brief moment to consciously reason, consider, question, analyze, and decide -- before responding or acting.
Of course “thinking fast” is a good thing. We couldn’t possibly – and wouldn’t want to – have to over-analyze every single thought before responding. But, on the flipside, how often do we make mistakes because we jump to conclusions or have impulsive, knee-jerk reactions when we might have benefited from pausing, even momentarily, to devise a more well-considered response?
So how can you leverage the power of “thinking slow” when on the spot in your next meeting or job interview?
One simple and powerful way to do so is by keeping in mind this extremely effective storytelling technique called “PARLA.”
PARLA stands for Problem, Action, Result, Learning, & Application.
Let's say the interviewer asks you a question like, "Can you tell me about a time wherein you faced a similar situation?" or you're in a sales meeting and the potential client asks, "Have you ever worked with a company like ours before?" In either scenario, you might use the PARLA method to structure your 5-part response as follows:
P – Problem: Let me tell you about the time I faced a similar situation...;
A – Action: Here’s the action I took...;
R – Result: Here’s the outcome of that action...;
L – Learning: Here’s what I learned...;
A – Application: And (*this is the most important and relevant part to the listener) here’s how I would apply what I learned from that prior experience in the future....
Very often when an interviewer or a potential client asks us a question, what often happens -- in our excitement and enthusiasm to convince them to choose us -- we excitedly blurt out something like, “Because I have a degree in x, and ten years’ experience, and I’m a hard worker, and a team player, and blah blah blah.” Not only are we thinking fast, we’re talking fast, and often just rambling on and on. And that’s exactly what so many people do.
Instead, why not try to differentiate yourself by taking a breath and a brief, two-second pause...followed by a confident, PARLA-based story that will make you stand out from the crowd.
One time a new potential client asked me "How much experience do you have working with millennials?"
My PARLA-structured response: “I've definitely spent a lot of time working with millennials! In fact, I teach a graduate course in 'Leadership & Team Building' in the HR Master's program at NYU -- and most of my students are millennials. And I've worked with a number of tech start-ups who have mainly millennial populations ("Problem"). One of the things I always make sure of when training millennials is to keep things as fast-paced, varied, and highly-interactive as possible ("Action"). I've found that when I do, it dramatically increases their attention, comprehension, and retention ("Result"). So every one of my training programs is designed and delivered with my company's "3 E's" -- Educate, Engage, and Excite -- in mind ("Learning"). And, so, I would definitely make sure that any leadership program we do for your millennial employees is highly interactive and experiential as well ("Application").
It's that simple: PARLA.
By the way, the "P" for "Problem" just refers to the comparable challenge, issue, or situation you're using as an example.
And note that even if things didn’t go well in the Results phase of your example, what’s important is that you took an Action to address a Problem, and that you Learned something valuable from it that you can Apply going forward. And, in truth, that’s really what the interviewer is, ultimately, looking for: whether or not you have the relevant experience and the capability to do the job.
Lastly, PARLA is not just a storytelling technique for use when BEING interviewed or trying to persuade someone; it is actually a classic behavioral interviewing technique that an interviewer may use to question you! If an interviewer ever starts a sentence with, “Tell me about a time when…” you will now immediately recognize that that is what they’re doing…and what they are looking for in terms of a response. So (not to give away any behind-the-scenes interviewing secrets :), but now that you are aware of this very popular interviewing methodology, going forward you will be better equipped, and can be better prepared, to respond on the spot.
Seizing the opportunity to tell a powerful, well-structured personal story using the PARLA format will capture and hold the interviewer’s attention, bring your experience to life, shows that you can think on your feet, and demonstrates with poise and confidence that you have what it takes to do the job...because you’ve been there before.
That’s the power of “thinking slow” in action.
For additional resources to help you improve your thinking skills, please check out my blog post entitled, “15 Fascinating Books to Help You Become a Better Thinker.”
Do you wait for things to happen . . . or do you make them happen?
Do you find yourself stalling for the perfect time to take action…or do you make “now” the right time?
Do you always find yourself one or more steps behind and playing catch-up…or do you go about your business feeling confidently and comfortably ahead of the curve?
Whether we’re talking about your personal life or your career, one of the most overlooked keys to success is the level of “proactivity” at which you tend to operate.
Life and work are filled with daily barriers, obstacles, and challenges that stand in the way of our getting things done. For example:
- Ineffective Time Management and Prioritization: With so much on your plate and so little time, you don’t even know where to start.
- Lack of Focus: Trying to juggle so many things at once, you are all over the map.
- Procrastination: Putting aside the things we should be doing, for the things we’d rather be doing.
- Perfectionism: Not knowing when good enough is good enough.
- Fear, Doubt, and/or Lack of Confidence: Feeling paralyzed by indecision or inaction.
- Waiting for Lightning to Strike, or for the Muse to Come: A nice way of saying you’re waiting for a kick in the pants.
There are probably other factors as well. But if you look at this particular list, what all these reasons have in common is that they are all INTERNAL…and, therefore, all within our control.
HOW PROACTIVE ARE YOU?
Here is a simple-yet-powerful model that we call “The 5 Levels of Proactivity.” Let’s explore it from the bottom up to see how we can work our way up from being Inactive, to Reactive, to Active, to Proactive, and, ultimately, to Super-Proactive:
Level 1: INACTIVE. At this level, something is needed from you…and you do nothing. Absolutely nada. Zero. Zilch. For whatever reason, you decide to take no action at all. Maybe the problem or request will just go away by itself. But probably not.
Level 2: REACTIVE. At this level, something is needed, and you respond. This is actually a good thing! So congratulations – you’ve put out the fire. The only problem is if you are constantly in reactive, fire-fighting mode, you are always at least a step behind. After a while, as the speed of needs and expectations increases, you may fall so far behind that you are unable to catch up. And then people are constantly waiting for you, getting frustrated and impatient…until they decide to look elsewhere for what they need.
Level 3: ACTIVE. When you are at this level, you are keeping up with demand, giving people what they want and need, in real-time, when they need it, and meeting expectations. Things are going well, and you are keeping up with the pace. The only problem is that when you are just keeping pace, you are not getting ahead. At this level, there is no time or space for growth. You’re getting things done, but you’re either treading water or standing still. And in an ever-changing world, if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind.
Level 4: PROACTIVE. Now we’re getting somewhere! At this level you are not only keeping up with the pace, but setting the pace and staying a step ahead. You are not just putting out fires, you’re preventing them. You are not just meeting expectations, you’re exceeding them. Anticipating others’ needs and expectations, you are thinking on your feet, doing your homework, looking down the road, putting yourself in the shoes of your customers, fostering an environment of growth and development for yourself and others, and taking control of your destiny. Remember that the root word of “pro-act-ivity” is “act” – and you are ready, willing, and able (and excited) to ACT!
Level 5: SUPER-PROACTIVE. Now you are not just setting the pace…you are leading! With a vision of the future, you are thinking not just one step ahead, but many steps ahead. This is where innovation happens, this is where paradigms shift, this is how you drive change and blow people away. This is where you develop your reputation as a guru of, or the go-to person for, things. The leaders of the future are those who are able to meet the demands of today while consistently anticipating and exceeding the needs of tomorrow. You anticipate what people want and need before they even realize it. You are a visionary. And as management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
That’s the model in a nutshell. Now let’s bring it to life with a simple, practical, real-life example: Let’s say it’s January 1st and you decide you want to get in shape for the summer.
If you’re INACTIVE, you don’t do anything about it. You procrastinate, you say, “It’s only January. I can wait a few months to get started.” But didn’t you just “decide” you were going to take action? That reminds me of the old riddle: There are five frogs sitting on a log, and one decides to jump in the water. How many frogs are now sitting on the log? The answer: Still five. One “decided” to jump in, but he didn’t actually DO it. It’s not the “deciding,” but the “doing” that counts.
If you’re REACTIVE, you’ll work out if someone else drags you along to the gym, or you’ll eat better if someone else shops for healthier food and places it in front of you. But you are not in control, and you are not taking responsibility, driving the changes, or owning the behavior necessary to achieve your desired outcome.
If you’re ACTIVE, you’ll get off the couch and work out if the mood hits you, and you’ll have an occasional low-calorie fruit juice or water rather than a soda. And you’ll replace that Big Mac with a salad. Your intentions are good, you’re taking baby steps, and you’re trying, but it’s sporadic and undisciplined, and you don’t really have a plan.
When you’re PROACTIVE, you make a plan – a structured, formalized, written plan, and you stick to it. You put a process in place and set a quantifiable goal of working out x days a week – no excuses. Your diet plan includes the sacrifices you’re willing to make...and you keep those commitments without fail. You follow through and you follow up. You make real behavior changes and track the results, with no excuses and no exceptions.
And what would being SUPER-PROACTIVE look like? It’s about having a longer-term time horizon and thinking many steps ahead. It’s about imagining the possibilities and anticipating potential obstacles that may arise down the road. Perhaps thinking and planning beyond the summer, into the fall, winter, spring, and maybe even into following year. Always thinking and acting with the big picture and a long-term vision of the future in mind.
So that’s just one example. How might YOU use this model to be more proactive in your personal life? To be less stressed? More productive? Happier? To take charge of your career? To get more things done? To impress your boss, to better serve your (internal and external) customers, or to be a more effective manager and leader?
How important is proactivity? In Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Be Proactive” is Habit #1. That’s how important it is.
It’s not easy being proactive; it takes time, attention, energy, discipline, and vision. But the good news is that the decision to be more proactive is entirely up to you and completely within your control. And it’s never too late to get started. As Confucius said, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next best time is today.”
And while being more proactive – and super-proactive – may involve making some radical changes and taking some substantial risks, as the saying goes: sometimes we just have to go out on a limb…because that’s where the fruit is.
With this being “Back to School” and “Back to Work” season, our thoughts around this time of year often turn to fresh starts and new beginnings.
A lot of people – especially recent graduates and post-summer job changers — embark on new jobs, new roles, new teams, new projects, and new challenges. As such, here are just a few suggested success tips that may help to get you started on the right foot:
 Attitude is Everything
We’re all really impressed with your MBA and your 4.0 average, but if they need someone to make copies or go get the coffee, be the first one to jump up and say, “I’ll be happy to!” Your enthusiastic and proactive efforts will (hopefully) be recognized and appreciated. And, if not, well … it’s just a good thing, and the right thing, to do.
I was once delivering a leadership workshop when the CEO got up and left the room to get himself a snack. But instead of coming back with just a bag of potato chips for himself (or, as many executives would do, ask one of his underlings to go get it for him), he returned with a basket full of chips, cookies, and nuts, and – like a flight attendant making their way up the aisle – proceded to work his way around the room, from table-to-table and person-to-person, asking if anyone wanted anything.
If the CEO of a company is willing to act so selflessly, generously, and thoughtfully – with no consideration of title, status, or perception – couldn’t we, and shouldn’t we, all?
 Nothing is Beneath You
On a similar note: Don’t consider any task as beneath you. Things need to get done, and someone’s got to do it. And, in many cases, that someone is you. So it helps to view everything as a learning experience and a developmental opportunity. It won’t kill you to get your hands dirty. Doing so (again, with a positive attitude) demonstrates teamwork and, often, even leadership.
Years ago I was on a job interview and the interviewer asked me the following question: “So let me ask you something: Do you do windows?” No, not Microsoft Windows. And, no, he wasn’t being metaphorical or mysterious relative to the concept of “transparency.” He was, literally, asking me if I was willing to do whatever it took to support the team and get the job done…even if it involved grabbing the Windex and paper towels, and rolling up my sleeves.
If there is one phrase you should completely and permanently eliminate from your vocabulary, by the way, regardless of what role you have, it is the words, “That’s not my job.” Just take my word for it.
 Go “ABCD”
So many people do the bare minimum; so look to stand out from the crowd by doing “the bare maximum”! Always ask yourself if you did all that you could do…and then look for ways to do more. We call this “Going ABCD” which stands for “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.” Whatever you’re asked to do, always seek to not just meet, but to exceed, expectations. When everyone else is dialing it up to “10,” find a way to crank it up to “11,” which, as we all know, is “one louder.”
When you do this, by the way, the intent should be to add as much value as you can; NOT to show everyone how smart you are. You may have been the smartest person in your class, but it’s important to realize that you don’t have all the answers…yet. I once had a former student complaining about how his company and his boss did pretty much everything wrong, and he wanted my advice on how to bring that to their attention. When I asked him how long he’s been working there, he replied, “Two weeks.”
Recognize that even with all your booksmarts, what you lack is the years of wisdom that those who came before you possess from first-hand, real-world experience…sometimes referred to as the School of Hard Knocks. So it might be useful to keep in mind my saying (picture a Venn diagram) that “Wisdom is where Knowledge and Experience meet.”
 It’s Not All About You
This is one of the best tips anyone ever gave me: It was explained in the context of sales, but it applies just as well to job interviewing (which is a form of sales, as you’re selling yourself). You may have heard this classic metaphor before: “No one needs a drill. If you go out and buy a drill, it’s because you need a hole.” Perhaps, for example, to hang a picture on a wall. In other words, people don’t by a product, they buy a solution to a problem. They don’t buy the features, they buy the benefits of those features. I’m in the leadership training and coaching business. But as my former boss taught me – and this was a game-changer in terms of how I approach selling my services: No one buys “training”; they buy what training does for them.
Similarly, as great a person as you may be, and as fun as you are to have around, when they hire you, it is because you fill a need and are seen as a solution to a business problem. If they could meet their goals with one less headcount, they probably would. So, once you get hired, regardless of the industry, organization, or function, your #1 job is this: To help your manager more successfully do his or her job! If you reframe your role in this way, and do everything you can to deliver results that will contribute to making your boss successful, that will, ultimately, increase the odds of YOUR success.
Hopefully, in time, what goes around will come around and you will be recognized and appreciated for your contributions. We know you’re on the fast track and want it all now. And it’s nice to be referred to as “the superstar.” But remember that patience is a virtue…and your time will come.
 Look, Listen and Learn
Keep in mind the three L’s: “Look, Listen, and Learn.” Keep your eyes and your ears open at all times. Remember the classic saying that we have two ears and one mouth, so you should be listening twice as much as you speak. Be a sponge. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take risks. Make mistakes. As the saying goes, “That’s why pencils have erasers.” Make it a point to try to learn at least two or three new things every single day. No matter how boring or monotonous a job might be at times, there’s always something to learn…if you are open to it. In fact, to keep yourself from becoming completely disengaged, that’s even MORE important to do if or when your job is not intellectually stimulating you. Read as much as you can. Keep a learning journal. Connect the dots. See every experience as a learning opportunity, and every interaction as a teachable moment.
As Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot from watching.”
 Always be Curious
Remember your “ABC”s: “Always Be Curious!” Ask questions: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, How?, and, especially, Why? Keep in mind Stephen Covey’s Habit #5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Try to gain a big picture perspective and seek to develop a visual, mental model of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together…including (especially) where YOUR piece fits in. Doing so, and expressing your curiosity, will not only demonstrate to others that you care enough to ask, but will, ultimately, give you a greater sense of both understanding and purpose.
Speaking of “purpose,” you may have heard the classic tale of the two bricklayers: When you ask the first one what he’s doing, he replies with something like: “I’m laying bricks; what does it look like I’m doing.” But when you ask the second one the same question, she replies with enthusiasm: “I’m building a cathedral!” Or a hospital. Or a school. Or a museum. Or an office building. It doesn’t really matter WHAT it is that you’re building within your role. The only thing that matters is that you go about your business with passion, enthusiasm, and genuinely caring about whatever it is you’re doing.
 Build Relationships
Asking (appropriate) questions is not only a great way to learn the business, but also enables you to learn about, connect with, and develop stronger interpersonal relationships with others. As the saying goes, “It’s not just WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” And about who knows YOU. When you ask questions of others, it demonstrates your respect for their knowledge and experience, and helps them to get to know you better. Additionally, when interacting with others, be generous with your time, your knowledge, and your willingness to offer assistance to others…with no expectation of return. People notice these things.
Speaking of “noticing”…Earlier in my career, when I worked as an administrative assistant in the drama program development department of one of the three major tv networks out in L.A., I thought that by putting my head down, keeping to myself, and consistently putting out excellent work, that would be sufficient to eventually earn me a promotion to a manager-level position. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! While I was busy working behind closed doors, my peers were busy networking and gaining visibility by raising their hands, asking to attend meetings and events, and interacting with as many people as possible. As an extreme introvert and bookwork, that was the last thing I wanted to (or felt comfortable and able to) do. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that that’s not how you get ahead in the business world.
One other thing: When it comes to building real relationships, it’s about quality, not quantity. As you move forward in your career, remember that developing a circle of genuine, sincere, mutually-beneficial, long-term relationships is more important and more valuable than setting the world record for having the most Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and/or LinkedIn connections. And when you seek to give more than you get, while it doesn’t always seem like it, it will pay off in the long run.
 Introspection, Reflection and Connection
One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons is the one with a picture of two guys looking up at a giant billboard that reads, in gigantic letters, “STOP AND THINK.” The caption: “It sorta makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?”
As we race around each day from home to work and back – often with our heads buried in our phones – too many of us don’t make the time and take the time to stop and think. Mindfulness is one of those hot topic buzzwords these days but, at its most basic, it’s really about being present, focused, and aware of both our external and internal environments.
One of the ways of being more mindful is to keep in mind the words “Introspection, Reflection, & Connection.” This is simply about making the time and taking the time for looking inward, looking backward, and looking forward: consciously thinking about what you are thinking and feeling inside; reflecting on what it means; and linking it to what’s going on in your career and your life – past, present, and future.
Whether you are starting a new job, or wish to perhaps recharge and refresh your enthusiasm for your present job, it helps to frame (or reframe) your situation as “perfectly all right as it is” by looking to make the best and the most out of it. Whatever you are doing right now is just the next stepping-stone along what will most likely be a long and winding career path.
And if you think of your career this way – as a journey – and try to make the most of the trip, you’re more likely to enjoy the experience as you proceed towards your ultimate destination…whatever, or wherever, that may be.
The Little Pink Spoon Approach to Job Interviewing: How to Give 'em a Taste and Leave 'em Wanting More
One of the great pleasures of summertime is popping into a Baskin-Robbins and trying out a few different flavors with those little pink spoons. Who doesn't love those little pink spoons!
Between you and me, 90% of the time I just end up getting Rocky Road anyway, but it's always fun to taste a few other flavors before ordering my cone. (*Although, if you're gonna do that, you better make sure that Larry David is not standing in line behind you!)
If you think about it, though, why is Baskin-Robbins so willing to give away their product for free? Of course, it’s simple and obvious: they hope that by giving us a free taste, we’ll end up buying a cup or a cone or a pint or a gallon. So they gladly give away millions of little pink spoonfuls in order to make many millions of dollars more in return. It’s the same reason movies show trailers, cosmetics companies give away free samples, and car dealers offer test drives: people want to try before they buy.
So, with this concept in mind, how might you apply the Little Pink Spoon principle to your job search in order to increase your odds of getting hired? Simply put, by giving a prospective employer a “free taste” of what you have to offer!
Three ways to leverage the power of the Little Pink Spoon approach in your job search using "the Three Shows": Show & Tell; Show Them That You Can Do It; and Show Them That You Really Want it...
 Show & Tell: No, "show & tell" is not just for kindergarteners. Verbally telling an interviewer how your background qualifies you for the job is one thing; visually showing them is another. As research has shown, vision trumps all other senses. John Medina states in his fascinating book "Brain Rules" that when people hear information, three days later they'll remember 10% of what they heard; but if they see it, they'll remember 65% of what they saw.
So what can you do to become more memorable? Be more visual! Bring stuff to the interview with you that you can show: Samples of work you’ve produced, reports or PowerPoint presentations you’ve created, photos of projects you've worked on, awards you’ve received, copies of articles or blog posts you've written. Even if the interviewer doesn't take the time to read or even look at what you brought, just holding it up and showing it to them makes it real...more real than just telling them about it. And having these samples handy is a great way to visually remind yourself of real-life stories you can use when asked, "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of...."
Even if you are not an artist, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a "portfolio" of your career accomplishments. You may even want to create a "visual bio/resume" or a personal marketing kit to supplement your traditional CV. As Dan Pink reminds us in his recent book, "To Sell is Human," we are ALL in sales. And, when you are interviewing, what you are selling is yourself. Because so few people outside of the design world think of creating a portfolio of their work, your proactivity and creativity in doing so will definitely help you stand out from the crowd.
 Show Them That You Can Do It: While job interviews can sometimes feel more like a one-way interrogation than a two-way conversation, there are things that you can strategically and proactively do to turn the discussion into a dialogue and a demonstration of your capabilities. Ultimately, what you want to do is to get the interviewer to change their perception of you from "an interviewee" to "an employee" by getting them to actually envision you working there.
One way of doing this might be to ask the interviewer to give you an example of a real-world business challenge that you would be facing if you were to be hired for this role. By taking off your "interviewee hat" and putting on your “consultant hat” and asking thoughtful questions, you probably won't solve their puzzle right then and there, but you'll be perceived as someone who is ready, willing, and able to get to work. Earlier in my career, when I asked my new boss at Disney why he hired me over a few other candidates who were more qualified, his response was: "Because you asked the best questions."
Another way you can show what you can do is by providing an example of your abilities using the PARLA model that I discussed in more detail in a previous post. In short, you can demonstrate your potential to do the job you're interviewing for by describing: a relevant PROBLEM you previously faced; the ACTION you took; the RESULT of that action; what you LEARNED from that experience; and how you would APPLY that knowledge in this role.
After the interview, to further demonstrate your potential, you might email them some additional thoughts and ideas, along with your thank-you note. This will further demonstrate your professionalism and capability, as well as reinforcing that you really want the job...
 Show Them That You Really Want It: It's one thing to show that you can DO the job; it's another thing to demonstrate that you really WANT the job. Earlier in my career I was crushed to not be offered a job that I thought I was perfect for. When I asked the hiring manager for some feedback after the decision had been made, he responded that, "It didn't seem to me that you were that enthusiastic about this position. We need people who are passionate about working here." Lesson learned: People aren't mind-readers, so make sure they know how much you want the job (assuming you really do).
Secondly, here's a question to consider: Are you potentially willing to work for free? Of course, you need to earn a living and don’t want to undervalue yourself. But, just as you might want to taste a new flavor before purchasing a whole cone, the prospective employer might be on the fence about hiring you, or might not yet be ready to make a permanent offer. So might there be some other way for you to show how much you have to offer and how much you want to work there? It’s not always possible, but what if you could start out as a volunteer or an intern, or in a temp-to-perm situation, or on a consulting or project or trial basis? This might not be an option, but it never hurts to be creative and open to exploring out-of-the-box possibilities as a way of getting your foot in the door!
In closing, from my experience, if you can "show" these three things -- real-world examples of your previous work accomplishments, that you have what it takes to do the job, and how much you really want it -- you will dramatically improve your odds of getting the job.
So, as you prepare for your next interview, think about how you might give people a "little pink spoon-sized taste" of who you are and what you have to offer so that they will want to buy the entire cone...along with some sprinkles, whipped cream, and a cherry on top as well.
OK, blog post done … time for some ice cream!
*If you have your own examples of the Little Pink Spoon principle in action, please feel free to share them with us...
It’s the classic Catch-22 situation: You can’t get a job or change careers without the necessary experience … but how are you supposed to gain experience if no one will give you a chance?
The answer: find an internship, temp job, or consulting gig! And this advice applies not just to recent graduates, but to ANYONE at any age, or at any stage of their career.
Doing an internship, taking a temp job, or getting project work will give you practical, real-world experience, get your foot in the door (or get it back in the door) of the working world, lead to your developing some new relationships and new skills, and help you to figure out what it is that you really want to do and (equally important) what you don't.
Earlier in my career, as well as at various times when I was between jobs, I worked at a series of (unpaid) internships and (low-paying) temp jobs. Some of them were interesting, most were pretty boring, and others were completely torturous.
But without them I would, most likely, not be where I am (or who I am) today.
For example, during the summer between graduating with my B.A. and finishing up my master's, I did an unpaid three-month internship as a researcher at NBC. It actually cost me money to work there, as I had to pay for my commute and lunch every day, not to mention the costly dry cleaning bills.
But although doing that internship had some downsides, it had many more upsides: I gained valuable work experience and discovered some of the things I liked to do and was good at — as well as a number of things that I didn’t and wasn’t. I made some useful contacts, gained some invaluable work experience, built my confidence, got a rush of excitement walking into 30 Rock every day, and was now able to put “NBC” on my resume.
A couple of years later, after moving out to L.A., a series of eight temp jobs in eight different departments over eight weeks at Disney ultimately led to an amazing administrative assistant job in tv comedy program development, working for a writer/producer on the legendary Burbank studio lot.
Looking back, I can honestly say that each and every one of my internships, temp jobs, or consulting gigs turned out to be, in one way or another, an impactful and memorable stepping-stone in my career.
And they left me with some valuable, life-long lessons that can be summed up in these four simple phrases: Look, Listen, & Learn; Do & Try; Ask Questions, Especially "Why?"; and Build Relationships Now:
1. Look, Listen, & Learn
When you start doing something you’ve never done before, in work or in life, EVERYTHING is new: the people; the place itself; the policies, processes, and procedures, etc. So be a sponge! Take it all in. Every interaction, every conversation, everything you see, hear, and feel –- seek to look, listen, and learn.
Be alert. Be aware. Be self-aware! Look around you — up, down, and across. Step outside yourself. Try to see things from others' points of view. Seek candid feedback. Look for best practices. And worst practices. Take a mental (or written) inventory of Do’s & Don’ts. Absorb the culture. Engage with the entire experience. And maintain an open and positive attitude. Make everything that happens, every day, a memorable experience and a teachable moment.
While your time in this position may only be brief, what you learn, both positive and negative, could last a lifetime if you just pay attention. And, even though it may be far from your "dream job," as in the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” you never know where it might lead.
2. Do & Try
It’s one thing to learn by looking and listening. But people learn most -– and learn best -– by DOING. So seek to do, and to try to do, as much as possible. Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take some risks. Raise your hand. And be willing to get your hands dirty, even though they may sometimes end up getting a little battered and bruised. It’s all part of the game.
Don’t expect to do everything right, or to be perfect the first time out. “Trial and error” is a common phrase for a reason. That's why pencils have erasers. And, as Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” The key is to have the confidence to do and to try and to fail. You are going to make some mistakes, so just expect that...and accept that. Knowing this in advance will make it much less painful when (not “if”) it happens. And if and/or when it ends.
3. Ask Questions, especially “Why?”
It is said that knowledge comes not from answering questions, but from questioning answers. So never be afraid to ask who, what, when, where, how, and (most important!) why.
You aren’t expected to have all the answers. So leverage the knowledge and experience of those who’ve been down this road before. Seek advice, feedback, coaching, and mentoring. Everyone had to start somewhere, and now it’s your time, and your turn. Be curious. Explore. Seek to understand. Dig deeper. And question everything. That’s the only way to learn and to grow.
I remember asking the guy who hired me for that Disney job why he chose me over all the other candidates he interviewed -- even though I knew that a few of them had better resumes than mine. His simple and straight-forward reply: “Because you asked good questions.”
4. Build Relationships Now
We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” But, in reality, "who you know" is not as important as "who wants to know you"! You definitely need to know stuff – we don’t want to minimize that. And you do want to meet and get to know as many people as you can. But the key to success in building relationships is getting people to want to know you. And that all comes down to building personal relationships, as well as developing your personal brand.
Someone may have the highest intellectual intelligence in the world, but without emotional and social intelligence -– the ability to know ourselves, and successfully interact with others and develop relationships -– we are, most likely, not going to get very far in the business world.
So be seen. Be heard. Seek to become an "SME" ("subject matter expert") in your area of interest. Be passionate, and demonstrate that passion. Be interesting, but also be interested. Be recognized as someone who can add value. And someone whom others want to know.
But remember that when it comes to building relationships – in work, as in life – it's about quality, not quantity. Seek to form real, genuine, authentic personal connections. Be generous. If you seek to give more than you take and get, it will, (hopefully) eventually come full circle. And, if not...well, it's just the good and the right thing to do anyway.
One final thing to remember: While some internships and temp jobs and consulting gigs are stimulating and engaging and exciting, others (many) may not be. The key is to frame your thinking as, “I am going to try to make the best –- and the most -– of my current situation, knowing that it is just one stepping-stone along what will most likely be a long and winding career path.”
And keep in mind that, despite that common metaphor, most careers tend not to be a straight "path," but more of a "roller coaster" of ups and downs, emotional highs and lows, and unexpected twists and turns.
If you think of your career as a journey, and try to make the most of the trip, you’re more likely to successfully reach your desired destination...and to enjoy the ride along the way.
*For more on this topic, please see my previous posts: