Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Favorite Career Websites

Four years ago, I wrote an article touting my favorite career websites. It's amazing how rapidly things have changed. Most of my favorites then are not favorites now or don't even exist.

So, I've rewritten the article to reflect my current picks. HERE is the link.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reinventing Career Counseling

In each WashingtonPost.com column, The Big Idea, I get to propose a disruptive solution to a big problem.

This week, I'm disrupting my own profession. It's on reinventing career counseling.

Perhaps surprising, it's a field that, net, hurts society as much as helps it. I like to think that what I propose fixes that. HERE is the link.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Real Hope for the Long-Term Unemployed?

My editor at The Atlantic issued me a challenge: "For your column this week, can you propose something that would offer real hope to the long-term unemployed?"

HERE is what I wrote.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

So You Have to Say Something That's Potentially Problematic

Of course, every situation is different but my clients have appreciated my giving them these examples of how one might state something potentially problematic:

1. When you want to say no: "Thanks but I'll pass." Too often, people beat around the bush to their detriment as well as the recipient's.

2. When you want to suggest something, instead of just suggesting it, which could engender defensiveness, try what I call California Couching: "Your point is interesting. I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to (insert your idea.) What do you think?"

3. When you want to say yes but appear strong: "That sounds good to me." Not, "Fantastic!"

4. When you don't have all the information you need to respond intelligently, don't try to BS your way through, say something like, "Tell me more." or "I'd like to reflect on this. I'll get back to your tomorrow."

A Gentler Approach to Job Intervewing

The previous post offered solid advice on how to convert an interview into a job offer but it requires a quite assertive and competent person. The following approach offered by Becky Washington, career services coordinator at Portland Community College, may be less intimidating yet still often effective. She writes:
"You gotta sell yourself!!" That's usually core to most career advice, but if you're not a salesy type, that advice may simply make you want to curl up in a ball.

Here’s my alternative: teach and learn. In a job interview, your mission is to teach them about yourself so they can see how you fit with the job and the organization. And use the interview to learn. Learn about the company and the job--you'll be able to ask intelligent questions when the interviewer says “Do you have any questions for us?”

Some of my favorites are: “What is the best part of the job" “What is the worst part of the job?” and “What makes someone successful in this job?”

Techniques for Turning Job Interviews Into Offers

This is the strong article on converting a job interview into an offer. It appears in the current 5 O'Clock Club newsletter. I italicize and bold ideas I think are crucial and not-obvious.

Four Techniques for Turning Job Interviews into Offers
by Nancy Karas

Here are four fundamentals to keep in mind to ace the interview:

1. Learn as much as you can about the organization and the position.

Before the Interview:

Research the company in as much depth as you can. What are its goals and mission? Who are its competitors, and how is it faring in the present economy? Is the industry expanding or shrinking?

What are the primary issues and challenges it may be facing?

During the Interview:

Be proactive in asking questions based on your research: you want insider insights on the problems, issues and challenges.

Share examples of how you have handled similar situations, showing how you can apply your experience and talents to address the issues and create viable solutions.

Let the hiring manager feel that you are there to help and find solutions.

Keep this in mind: you may often be able to help define the job description, as you show the manager how you can help solve the needs of that department.

Find out why the desk is empty. Was there someone in this position previously? Is it a newly created position? What happened to that person? Was he or she promoted or laid off? If the person didn’t work out, what qualities were missing that were needed for this job? What qualities would the ideal candidate bring to the job?

2. Learn as much as you can about the hiring manager and the HR people who will interview you. Move heaven and earth to get the names and titles of the people with whom you will be meeting. If you don’t know—and neglected to find this out when the interview was set up—call back to find out. The Internet may be your best friend in this endeavor. You are likely to find a lot of information on LinkedIn, and a Google search may turn up unexpected details. Years ago, I interviewed for a position with a large company in Northern California. Before the interview, I did my homework, researched the company and the HR Manager I was scheduled to meet with. I looked her up on LinkedIn and learned that she was very involved in a local charity for special needs children. I researched the charity too. When we met, she was not friendly. In fact she was extremely cold to me and seemed really annoyed that she had to meet with me. Somehow I needed to break the ice and find a connection between us—or this interview was going nowhere. I decided to break the ice by talking about the charity. I told her—and this was no lie, said just for flattery—that I was a big fan of all their efforts and if I were to relocate to this area, I would love to contribute to the organization and become a part of their volunteer staff. I mentioned to her that I had done some volunteer work for similar organizations. This topic provided us with a common bond. It told her something important about me. She began to warm up and she was far more receptive to me as the interview went on. In this more congenial atmosphere, we were able to discuss the position and the needs of the company—and how I could address those needs and present solutions.

3. Ask about Your Competition and Your Weaknesses

You really do want to find out how you stack up again others, and if the hiring manager has reservations about you. And yes, you can ask! Near the end of the interview—if not before—do some probing. Ask the hiring manager or the HR team if they have identified any candidates who are a good fit for the position. You may also ask, “Where do I stand as a candidate in comparison to the other candidates?” You also want to know how close they are to making a decision. How many people have they interviewed, and how many are scheduled after you? But above all, you need to find out if they have any reservations about you: “Is there anything about my background that would make you hesitant to hire me?” All of this information can help you as you prepare your follow-up.

4. Send an Influencing Letter

The real work—turning interviews into offer—begins after you have left the interview. The key is brainy, strategic follow-up. This continues the process of building a relationship with the hiring manager. You want to dispel any doubts about your suitability, and influence the decision-makers. It’s up to you to make the case that you are the right candidate for the job.

Most people send a simple thank-you note, but this will have little impact. An influencing letter is one of the most important components of the interviewing process and The Five O’ Clock Club Methodology. You don’t want to leave the decision in their hands. In your letter you may be able to smooth over anything that did not go well during the interview, and answer questions that left you tongue-tied. Demonstrate again that your credentials and your interest in the position make you the right fit for the job. Send a proposal along with your influencing letter to show the manager that you are already thinking about how their needs can be addressed. This will surely set you apart from the competition.

In your influencing letter:

Address the hiring manager’s needs.

Suggest solutions and submit a proposal, based on what you learned during the interview.

Dispel the concerns and doubts that the hiring manager may have had about you.
Show more interest and competence than your competitors!

Are you afraid that this all will make you appear too desperate, or that you will be perceived as a pest? Five O’Clock Club research has shown that this is not the case. Most candidates don’t follow up at all. If they do, they send the standard thank-you note and make one phone call to inquire. Such calls are commonly not returned and no real information is gained. Calling the hiring manager’s office to follow up after an interview is not a good idea. It doesn’t provide you with that golden opportunity to further influence and connect with the person. Sending an influencing letter is the right way to go—then make a follow-up call because there is something new to talk about! Don’t wait for the job offers to come to you. Follow these The Five O’ Clock Club techniques and go out and get them!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Latest Article on Time Management

This is a draft of my next article for Mensa's national magazine. I thought you might like a look. And because it is a draft, I welcome your suggestions for its improvement.

Our most valuable possession is not money. It's time. We get but a limited time on Earth and the value of your life depends on the extent to which you make the most of that time. Less lofty, your career success and feeling at least somewhat in control of your life depends on whether you make the most of your time.

You're too smart for the standard tips to solve your time-management problem: "Only handle a piece of paper once?" Duh.

Or the standard advice doesn't fit your non-standard life, for example, the title of one of time-management guru Julie Morgenstern's book is, Never Check E-mail in the Morning. Right.

There are three steps to improving your time-management:
1. Getting sufficiently motivated to improve your time-management
2. Acquiring three basic skills
3. Knowing some non-obvious tactics.

Getting motivated

You may get more motivated simply by knowing I'm not necessarily trying to get you to do more work--you may already be doing as much as you want to. Time-management can be about paring your to-do list so you get done what you really want and need to. Of course, this article will also offer some potent yet not-obvious tactics for getting more done in less time.

Alas, motivating you to take the (ahem) time to improve your time management often isn't that easy. For example, if your life sucks and think it will continue to suck even if you improve your time management, you're unlikely to keep reading this article, let alone work on your time management.

Before you can care enough to work on time management, do you need to improve your work situation, romantic life, or health? If so, stop reading this article and ask yourself, "What one or two doable yet important things could I do now to improve those?" For example, even though the job market is lousy, is it time to tell your boss to take this job and shove it? Your romantic partner to stop being a nag or else? To lose those extra 20 pounds that are making you feel like crap? To make sure you get those seven hours of sleep so you're not dragging all day? To see a counselor or even try meds to address that depression, anxiety, bipolar, whatever? Most people know what they need to do--They just need to take a step back, pick something, and commit to doing it, perhaps telling others of that commitment.

The three prerequisite skills

Whether you're trying to pare your to-do list or to get more done, it really helps to:

Embrace productivity. Sure, with seven billion people on the planet, none of us are likely to make that much difference, but whatever meaning our life has seems to me so enhanced by how productive we are.

Sure, I could have more fun by spending as much time as possible watching comedies and listening to my favorite tunes but the world will have been no better for my presence. For example, it would be more fun to play with my doggie Einstein than to write this article, but my life feels better-led because I'm writing it.

Most people wouldn't want to be this analytical but I wonder if the value of a person's life could be measured by scoring each hour on The Meter: with -10 (selling crack to kids ,) 0 ( playing with Einstein,) +10 (working to cure cancer.)

Besides, productivity can be so healing. I am a child of Holocaust survivors and got to know about 30 Survivors. Nearly all of them that appeared psychologically healthy focused not on reliving the past but on working hard to create a new life. For example, my dad worked 60+ hours a week, which not only supported my mom, sister, and me, but healed him and made him feel good about his life despite having lost years and family to the Holocaust and being dumped, as a young adult, in the Bronx without a penny or a word of English, only the scars of the Holocaust tortures.

I don't want to be one of those people who's always asking, "Where did the day go?" let alone "Where did the years go?" I want to be one of those people who feel, "I'm making good use of my time. I'm living a life well-led."

Set goals that reflect a personal mission statement. For example, mine is "Use my coaching, writing, and speaking skills to improve people's lives and to reinvent higher education." From there, I set goals. Then, when I have a choice (not as often as I'd like--life intrudes,) I try to prioritize tasks that abet my mission statement and goals.

Are you ready to create a personal mission statement? Perhaps even take a crack at writing one right now? After that, want to try creating a first-draft set of goals that follow from your mission statement?

Be time-aware. In planning how you'll do a task, and throughout, ask yourself the magic time-management question: Is this a time-efficient approach? Do you really need to do five interviews to get the information for that report or might a good Google search do? Do you really need to call an in-person meeting or would getting the team's input by email give you the most bang per hour?


This is a buffet of options. Pick even just one or two and you'll likely feel satisfied.

Cut unwanted time-sucks from your life. Maybe you really feel these things are wise uses of your time: playing golf, pity parties with your hopeless friends, a standing date with a sitcom, traipsing to Topeka for Uncle Gomer's third wedding, the monthly $300 day at the day spa, trying to finally understand Ulysses, staring at steroided athletes throwing a ball around, stuffing your face for eight days and seven nights on the cruise ship Il Stupendo, attending a memorial for your favorite OD'd entertainer, or filing the lawsuit against that sonofabitch. But often we do such things without consciously evaluating whether we'd really rather spend the time some other way.
Outsource. Companies do it to save money. You can do it to save money and time. You can outsource anything from laundry to errands, writing to webmastering. Place an ad in craiglist.org or find someone at a temp worker site such as www.odesk.com or www.elance.com, which list thousands of people highly-rated by previous employers, eager to work for $10 an hour or less. Even if you're broke, your time is worth more than $10 an hour--hiring someone even for a few hours a week frees you up to look for a job paying more than that.
Analyze less; act more. Analysis paralysis is not only draining, it's often a formula for failure. Most successful people plan and analyze relatively quickly, then take low-risk action steps and, based on that experience, revise their plan, if needed. They live by: Ready, FIRE, Aim!
With most sub-five-minute tasks, rather than put it on your to-do list, just do it. That will help keep your to-do list short enough that it doesn't overwhelm you into inertia and procrastination.
Have a sponge activity, an activity you can use to sponge up otherwise wasted time. We all have lots of dead time: on the commute train, in line at the supermarket, waiting in the doctor's office, even while watching TV--the commercials are endless! I always keep an article, book, or memo pad with me. Why a memo pad? While waiting, I make notes on how to tackle whatever project I'm working on.
Get clear on your boss's priorities for you. That can help you focus your time on what matters.
Telecommute? If you can work at home, telecommuting a day a week can be a big time-saver.
Can you get out of meetings, especially standing ones? Today’s workplace-think is, "Better inclusive than efficient.” But meetings can be huge time sucks. If you’d rather not attend, is it worth asking your boss?
Keep a time log? If you’re not sure you’re using time as you'd like, on a typical day, log your activities on a memo pad or into your cell phone. Every time you change tasks, write the time and what you’re starting to do. At the end of the day, review your log.
Get observed. Not sure whether you need to get more efficient or if so, how to do it? Get someone who is time-efficient to watch you for an hour or more.

A time-effective summary: Throughout the day, ask yourself, “Is this time-efficient, and is it consistent with my personal mission statement?”

When You Have an Employment Gap Due to Illness

A woman emailed me asking for advice. She's been ill for over a year, including two major surgeries. Now she wants to go back to work and doesn't know how to explain the employment gap.

I sent her my advice and she wrote back to say she loved it, so I figured I'd share it with you:

If I were in your shoes, I'd disclose it right upfront in my cover letter. The wrong employers (the large majority) will reject you immediately. The rare right ones will consider you. That's the sort of employer you want to work for anyway.

And I'd focus on making that pitch both to your network and in cold-calling employers who are NOT advertising a job for which you're qualified. The goal would be to get to them early in a job's lifespan: for example, when an employer has a need for someone but isn't yet aware of it or has thought about hiring but haven't started the process yet---that way, you might not have to compete with so many applicants.

On Socialism

Someone emailed this to me:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealth out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them; and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Definitive Guide to Replacing Procrastination with Willpower?

In preparing for a course I'll likely soon teach for The Great Courses, Replacing Procrastination with Willpower, I've written THIS article.

It distills what I've learned from helping countless people replace at least some of their procrastination with drive.

I've previously written dozens of articles and chapters on replacing procrastination with motivation, drive and willpower. This article distills them plus adds a number of new and potent ideas.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Redistribution as better than Utilitarianism:" The media's core assumption, which cries out for questioning

Philosophers like today's hot Richard Rorty, whom the New York Times called, "One of the world's most influential contemporary thinkers" insist we develop wise judgment by seeing have-nots' pain: films, reading, and, of course, through life experience.

But does that not lead society to irrational decision making? For example, even if a film ostensibly documents a real-life event, it hand-picks one that's extreme, designed to increase people's willingness to redistribute resources from those most likely to innovate, create jobs, etc., to those least likely.

Worse, most such films (and indeed much mass media news) are mockumentaries, selectively reporting and/or exaggerating the truth to obtain the desired audience reaction. And of course, in acknowledged fiction, whether on film or in novels, authors so often deliberately create situations specifically to manipulate the audience into behaving in that redistributive way.

That's not a problem if one accepts today's standard postulate among today's mainstream intelligentsia: that redistribution/egalitarianism is a fundamental truth, an axiom, the place from which one starts.

But what if a person's fundamental postulate is the currently out-of-favor utilitarianism: in which the world should be willing to accept inequalities to the extent that, net, the quality of life for the world's people is better.

Such people believe the post-modern position (as expressed by the likes of the intelligentsia's current rock stars Habermas, Derrida, Quine, Rorty, etc.) is immoral, resulting in far greater pain to the world. And those utilitarians are particularly annoyed at such movies and novels because they selectively report, create straw-man opposition, exaggerate, and even outright distort historical fact to manipulate their audience to buy that philosophy of how resources should be expended.

As we watch movies, read novels, consume "news" in print, TV or the Internet, shouldn't we question their usual fundamental postulate--that redistribution is an inherent good?

To explore both sides of this critical question, one could do worse than to read the two essays that comprise the slim book, Utilitarianism: For and Against.

Nonverbals: Your Hidden Weapon

Humankind is a bit shallow: We judge too heavily based on looks.

You may not be able to be gorgeous but these few tips can put you ahead of most Pretty People:
  • Smile: Even babies react better to smilers. That's certainly true for adults. Be sure it looks authentic, not the salesman's smile. How do you tell? The smile lines aside your eyes crease.
  • Good posture. When your shoulders are back and level with each other (not hunched or tilted,) your back is straight, and you stride purposefully, you'll get a better reaction. Cosmopolitan founder Helen Gurley Brown said, only half-joking, after 40, it all comes down to posture.
  • The Obama head-tilt. President Obama tilts his chin just slightly upward, especially when making an important or controversial point. That makes him seem more confident and, well, presidential. Try it in a mirror. You'll see what a difference it makes. But don't tilt your chin up too much or you'll look stuck-up.
  • When talking with someone, be close but not too close: in the U.S., unless it's an intimate, 2 1/2 feet is about as close as you want to get. If your conversation partner backs away, respect that.
  • If you're seated in conversation, lean slightly forward--it conveys enthusiasm. Keep your legs and arms uncrossed--that makes you appear open.
  • Establish and maintain eye contact roughly 2/3 of the time--more and you risk looking psychotic. A technique for establishing eye contact is, before starting to talk with someone, note their eye color.
  • Watch others' nonverbals for signs of anxiety or deception. For example, rubbing head, neck or thigh can be self-soothing behaving in response to feeling stressed. Those could be normal behaviors for that person but when a person, in mid-conversation, suddenly exhibits one of those behaviors, take note.
  • The feet are often revealing, because people don't expect you to be noticing their feet. So, for example, if your conversation partner moves a foot toward the exit, s/he may be trying to get away from you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

When is College Worth It?

We now send 70% of high school graduates to college, the highest percentage in history and President Obama wants yet more to go. That despite study after study now showing college education's terrible value-added for all but top students, whether in learning or employability.

For example, the unemployment rate for college graduates is 8.9%, higher than the overall rate of 8.6%! The employment rate is far worse still if you don't major in a hard science or engineering but rather in the social sciences, humanities, or arts.

So if I had a child who was deciding what to do after high school, I'd discuss these questions with him or her:
  • Are you excited about learning harder academic material than you're being taught in high school?
  • Are you capable of completing a major in a field such as computer science, mathematics, or physics, are you willing to accept the much greater risk of unemployment by majoring in the liberal arts, or would you like to consider non-degree options such as a short-term career-training program at a community college, an apprenticeship, learning a trade in the military, or learning how to run your own business by working at the elbow of a successful, ethical entrepreneur?
  • At college, without parents' watchful eyes and without teachers knowing even if you're attending class, are you likely to stay focused enough on academic learning to be among the fewer than 40% that graduate college in four years, just 55% even if given six years? The rate is far worse still for students of color. And of students who graduated in the bottom 40% of their high school class and had had sub 40%ile SAT scores, fewer than 1 in 4 graduated, most from a third-tier college and with a low GPA in a major such as sociology or American Studies. That is not likely to motivate employers to hire you for a professional-level job, especially in today's job market.
  • Are you more likely to succeed in a career working with your brains than with your hands or body?
  • Will you be able to afford the enormous cost of a college education: At a typical brand-name public university in most populous states, the average cost of just four years, after subtracting cash financial aid, assuming you qualify, is approaching $100,000. At a brand-name private college it's approaching $200,000.
Do remember that most college graduates are burdened with a fortune in student loans accruing interest, the only debt not dischargeable through bankruptcy. At the same time, as mentioned above, college graduates now have a higher rate of unemployment than the general population. That's partly because the cost of employing white-collar Americans is skyrocketing, for example, because ObamaCare mandates employers provide health care not only for its employees but a surcharge to pay for the poor's health care. So U.S. employers are offshoring, automating, and temping as many positions as possible.

For top students and for those who truly enjoy academic learning, college remains a wise choice. But most others would be wise to consider forgoing college, at least until they're eager to learn and can well afford it---Often that isn't until late in life. Many young people would be wiser to consider post-high-school options as those mentioned above.