Entries in jobs (5)
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.”
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.
When is it ok to accept a job that is not your "dream job"...and how can you make the most of it?
Check out what Todd had to say in this real-life case study on Forbes.
Catherine Conlan, contributing writer to Monster.com, asked me for a few suggestions on how to do this -- and here they are (originally posted on Monster.com, and then elsewhere including the NY Daily News):
Many people have ambivalent feelings about their jobs. Work is a place they go to, do some chores at, and then come home from, without feeling like they’ve grown personally or professionally, or have made a real difference in the world. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to elevate your job from a task to something fulfilling. Here are some small changes you can make to love the job you have.
 Talk to your boss.
If you think there are changes that could be made to improve your outlook, let someone know, says Cheryl Heisler, president and founder of Lawternatives. “It’s very possible that the company would rather hear what you are unhappy about and fix it than to see you walk,” she says. “It’s costly to lose a trained employee, and no one wants to lose someone good.”
But don’t just drop into the boss’ office unannounced and say, “I’m bored.” Identify what’s dissatisfying you and come up with some concrete ideas on how to change it before you talk to your boss.
 Try something new.
“The best way to learn a new skill, demonstrate your potential and get out of a work rut is to take on a stretch assignment,” says Todd Cherches, founder and CEO of BigBlueGumball. “Not only will you be helping out your team or department by making a value-added contribution, but you’ll be enhancing your reputation while challenging yourself to reach new heights.” Heisler agrees. “We all like to do things that are familiar, but if that’s all we do, we get bored and lose interest.” Asking for something new and challenging can help “stir up the pot.”
 Step back a bit.
Even when you like your job, it’s important to mentally detach and revitalize when you’re not at work, says Dr. Paula Thompson, a career coach. “Studies show that people who spend their non-work time engaged in hobbies, sports and social activities have higher job satisfaction.”
Taking on a new challenge outside of work can be as invigorating as one at work. “The more you love your life outside the office, the happier you will be when you are in,” Heisler says. “Extra-curriculars keep life fun and keep work in its proper perspective.”
 Stop gossiping.
Complaining about work with others, especially if it’s just gossip. “Focusing on the negative will bring down your spirits,” Thompson says. “Instead, purposefully develop friendships with your co-workers who love their jobs, and you will find that their passion will be contagious and make you feel better about yours.” If the entire work environment is negative, you might have to find a way to shield yourself from the negativity, or, alternately, look for options for boosting morale.
 Start fresh every day.
Sometimes wiping the slate clean and starting fresh can help you recharge your batteries, Cherches says. “What if next Monday were your first day on the job?” he asks. “How would you prioritize? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing? What would you wear?” Organizing your workspace, clearing out the inbox, tossing out piled-up paperwork and setting deadlines for projects can all help you find new energy for your job. “Consciously deciding to adjust your attitude and approach your work in a new way may just help you get re-engaged and rejuvenated.”
“People do best, what they like best to do.”
That’s an old adage by Frederick W. Taylor, the original management guru. Seems like common sense, doesn’t it? And yet, so many people hate their jobs.
So why is that?
Well, think about your hobbies. You know, the things you do for fun. Whatever it is, whether it’s playing a sport, a musical instrument, practicing a craft, or whatever, you probably do it for at least one of the following two reasons: you’re good at it and/or you enjoy it. Otherwise, why do it?
If you love doing something, let’s say, playing the guitar – even if you’re not very good at it – you’re going to pick it up and fiddle around with it, spending your spare time practicing, and watching and listening to others play, all in the hope of getting better. Even if you’re not that great and know you’re probably never going to play in a band, you still do it because it’s fun.
Similarly, if you’re good at something, even if it’s balancing your checkbook, you may not love doing it, but because you’re skilled in math and it comes quick-and-easy to you, you don’t really mind doing it.
So, what about something that you love doing AND you’re good at it? Now you’ve hit the magic bulls eye: your passions and your skills are in alignment! Let’s say you love playing tennis and you discovered years ago that you’re pretty good at it. Most likely, with this combination of passion and skill, you enjoyed watching tennis on TV to see how the pros do it, didn’t mind hitting a tennis ball against the wall thousands of times, and got a rush from playing every chance you got.
Over time, your skills grew. And as your skills grew, so did your confidence, which led to your taking on tougher challenges, practicing more, winning against better and better opponents, having fun competing and winning, and enjoying your increased success. No, you’re probably not going to play in the U.S. Open, but you’re at a level that you are proud of and enjoy as you keep working on taking your game to the next level.
Now, what about when you are stuck doing something that you are not good at, and do not like doing? How successful do you think you are going to be?
Probably not very.
And, yet, this describes a lot of people’s jobs. So how does this happen?
Here’s how it happened to me: A number of years ago, I was out of work for a while when I was offered an amazing job as the VP of Business Development and head of the New York office for a leading west coast interactive agency. I was so honored by being hired and excited about working for this innovative company to help them grow their east coast business.
But once the initial excitement wore off, the job itself ended up being much tougher for me than I ever expected as I started just around the time of the dot-com crash when finding new business instantly became tougher and tougher. And, unfortunately, I quickly discovered the hard way that I did not possess the abilities or the personality type required to succeed in this kind of role – especially in this type of market environment.
And, so, as time went on and as I continued to fail, my stress level rose, and I began to like this job less and less, until I could not even bear to get up for work in the morning.
If you’ve ever had a job that you didn’t like AND that you were not good at, you know what I’m talking about. I was set up to fail every day, through nobody’s fault but my own, and I just wanted out. Getting laid off, despite my feeling of loss as I loved the company and the people, actually ended up being a huge relief.
In almost every job, there are going to be aspects of your position that you like more than others, and that you’re better at than others. And, similarly, there are going to be things you are good (or even great at), and things that you are not.
For example, in my current role as head of a management and leadership consulting, training, and coaching firm, I love and feel that I’m pretty good at the consulting, training, and coaching part. What I don’t love, and am not that great at, is the actual running of the business itself (especially, the financial and administrative side).
So, what to do about it?
Taking a look at the Passion/Skill Matrix and thinking about YOUR job:
1. Make a list of all the different things you do on a regular basis; and then
2. Place each of these different things in one of the four boxes.
The things that you Like/Love and are Good At: If you have a lot in that box, you’re incredibly lucky! Try to spend as much time as possible on these things. This is where the intersection of your skills and passions lie, and where you have the greatest potential to leverage your strengths and go from good to great.
The things that you Like or Love to do, but are NOT great at: This is a wonderful developmental opportunity! If you like something, or feel you have potential in this area, you are more likely to work at it by learning more about it, studying, practicing, and seeking out training and coaching. Einstein once said that, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” If you’re passionate about it, keep working at it. You never know how far you might get unless you try.
The things that you Don’t Like to do, but are Good At: Perhaps it’s something you used to like doing, or you just became the “go to” person by default because it comes naturally to you and everyone knows it. Well, this is a great developmental opportunity – for someone else! Here’s where you might be able to take on the role of a mentor or coach by helping someone else develop skills in this area. This is a win-win opportunity that will help someone else to grow while freeing you up to do other things.
And, lastly, the things that you Don’t Like (or Hate!) to do, AND are Not Good At: This is your “Failure Zone”…and you need to do whatever it takes to get out of this box as soon as you can. Again, we all have aspects of our jobs that we may not love, but if you are spending more than 25% of your time in this box, you are setting yourself up for a whole lot of pain and suffering. And, to be honest, if you’re in a job that you really, truly don’t like and that you are really, truly not good at, you’re not doing your employer any favors by staying in this role. Sometimes we stay just for the paycheck, but it’s really hard to sustain that over the long haul. And it’s ultimately going to take its toll on your physical and mental health.
As Dan Pink writes in his book Drive and as he speaks about in this amazing RSAnimate video, people are happiest and most productive when they have three key, intangible things: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
If you are lucky enough to find a job where you spend most of your time with the freedom and flexibility to make your job your own (autonomy); in an environment that allows you to grow and develop into the best you can be (mastery); while doing work that matters (purpose), that’s when you’ve got it made.
As they say, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”