How Relative is Language?

I was in the airport waiting for my flight to board yesterday when I came across a father and son that were eating in a terminal restaurant.  While the father was reading the daily newspaper, the young boy was blowing impressively loud bubbles into his fountain soda.
Clearly referencing his fine-tuned parental patience, the man ignored the noise and went back to his paper.  But eventually, the man grew more and more agitated until he erupted, “Put it down!”  Startled, the boy obeyed.  “Knock it off!” the father followed sternly.  Once again, the boy obeys his father…swinging at his soda and knocking it off the table to the restaurant floor

Biting my cheeks to suppress laughter, it dawned on me that this is extremely relevant to obtaining – and flourishing in – a job.  Language is relative.  A word may have a very specific definition in your world, but could mean something completely different to your boss, coworker or the manager interviewing you.

Consider the very term “soda.”  If you’re from the East or West Coast, you call it soda.  But if you’re one of our friendly neighbors in the Mid-West, you most likely call it “pop” – and we’re from the same country!  Consider the impact this could make when a crucial phrase or important conversation is on the line.

The object of communication is not to forcefully impart our perspective on others.  It is to more effectively help someone understand what you are trying to say.  To do so, you must enter their world and speak their language.

I’ve seen plenty of interviews, projects, meetings, careers and opportunities spoiled because of poor communication.  Becoming a master communicator is a quest of a lifetime, but being aware of the fact that language is relative is a tremendous step in the right direction to making communication work for – not against – you.  And, it will do wonders for your job search, career and personal life in

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Windows & Mirrors: Part II

In our last post, we talked about the Windows & Mirrors concept: do you accept responsibility for your circumstance or do you seek external excuses to blame your situation on?  Often, it is not natural talent or charisma that defines great leaders, but rather one’s expectations of themselves (and others) and their ability to accept responsibility when things turn sour.

The brightest, most talented and most successful people in the world fail all the time:

  • Thomas Edison and his 2,000 ways “how not to invent a light-bulb”
  • Vincent van Gogh who considered himself a complete flop as an artist, or
  • Abe Lincoln who suffered a multitude of potentially crushing personal and professional setbacks before becoming president and abolishing slavery.

The simple truth is that it’s often easier to look out the window and blame a “failure” on poor luck than it is to accept a mistake.  It’s easier to become the victim than to own the fact that you made a decision somewhere along the line that encouraged an unfavorable circumstance.

This is enough to convince most people that they’re not responsible for their life. I’m just unlucky.  I’m not smart enough.  I don’t have the skills to do that.  If you’re not in control, it can’t ever be your fault.  This comforting mindset is familiar us all in some capacity.

But here’s the rub: this short-term ego-enhancing tactic is completely devastating to long-term success and true happiness.  If you don’t see yourself as part of the problem, you won’t ever see yourself as part of the solution.

In other words, if you don’t think you have control of (or at least, an impact on) your life, you won’t take action to strive for the life you truly want.  It is this precise lack of action that causes many to fall short of their goals and relinquish the influence they have on their own life.

So whether you’re searching for a new job, considering a career transition or trying to figure out how best to manage your Career Services department, take responsibility for your circumstance and begin taking (preferably strategically defined) action.  After all, your future depends on it…

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Windows, Mirrors and Success

After captivating the business world with his first big book Built to Last, Jim Collins, the former Stanford Business School professor, published a book that would largely impact the mindset of corporate America. With only an insatiable question consuming his thoughts, an open mind and an army of grad school researchers to support his cause, Collins set out with a goal that has eluded business executives for centuries: what does it take to go from good to great?

Good to Great is an anomaly in the printing world. Since it originally came out in 2001, it has sold millions of copies and continued to sell 300,000 books a year. I have no intention of utilizing smoke and mirror affects to make it seem like my viewpoint is the only one of merit. So my disclaimer: three of the “good to great” companies that Collins cites have performed well below average in the last nine years. But this blog is not written to verify or vilify individual companies. So all I will say is this: do you remember how well the Chicago Bulls did after Michael Jordan retired the first time? If so, do you remember how well they did after he returned?

Instead, I want to highlight a very important part of Collins’ book. He calls it the mirror or the window affect and from my vantage point, it is probably the most important piece in the book. He talks about leaders the characteristics of Good to Great leaders – the executives that delivered their companies to the publicly held Promised Land.

  1. Yes. I realize it is impossible to pinpoint, build a case for and articulate the characteristics of great leaders in one blog post.
  2. And yes, I realize you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you. You’re not interviewing to be a CEO (or maybe you are); you need a job.

Firstly, this is only one piece of successful leadership, albeit, an important one. Secondly, this has everything to do with you, your career endeavors, and your life. You are the CEO of your life. Nobody else can instill a sense of success, satisfaction, enjoyment, or purpose. True success, satisfaction, enjoyment and purpose come from you and you alone.

I’m not saying you need to be the most wise, charismatic or courageous leader the world has ever seen. But whether you like it or not, the train that is you is moving full steam ahead, it’s merely a matter if you want to assume the position of conductor or not.

Window or Mirror?
When something goes wrong, do you look out the window or in the mirror? If you look out the window when things go wrong, you are blaming others, pointing fingers and allowing your ego to convince yourself that you are the victim. If you are looking in the mirror, you accept the fact that external circumstances to play a role in your life, but that you still could have made a different decision somewhere along the line to alter your circumstance. Which do you think the great leaders look at?

The next blog will discuss this concept in more detail, but for now, here is a simple exercise that will help you command control of your life in a small way. Next time something “goes wrong” – your car keys are missing, the attendant at Starbucks is being rude to you, or you finished a project late – find a way to accept responsibility for what happened. Be prepared to challenge your ego; it will say, “it’s not my fault that my friend borrowed my car and lost the keys.” Well, true – you cannot control your friend’s actions. But you could have told him he couldn’t borrow the car, you could have made a spare set of the keys because you know he’s forgetful, you could have driven him where he needed to go yourself.

There’s always something you can control. Find what you can control, look for the opportunity to do so in the future, and begin to notice the small changes that will eventually add up to big changes. Until next time…

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Steve Jobs on Jobs

What now? It’s a question on the minds of many bright, hardworking and eager people. “But what do I do with my talents, intelligence and work ethic?” Simplified to the most basic level, I’ve found two different approaches to striving for a satisfying and enjoyable life. On one side, you pursue a career in something that you are completely passion about and absolutely love doing. On this path, you wake up everyday, are eager to get to work, and (for the most part) truly enjoy what you do for “work.”

On the other side of the spectrum, there is the approach that you will do a job that may not be passionate about, (but are apparently pretty good at it) and utilize your “free time” to pursue your true passions, purpose and hobbies, or in other words, the things that you enjoy doing. These are extremes of course, so there are probably a host of available opportunities in-between, but those are the basic gists.

As Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford Graduation speech, “You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.” He goes on to say that the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Take a step back and think about that: it’s so painfully obvious. How could you expect to do your personal best at something if you’re not truly passionate about it?

But as obvious as that seems to be, how many people do you know that are not passionate about their work? How many people have you heard bad-mouth their company, complain about their boss or criticize their industry? I can tell you one thing, and Steve Jobs will concur, you don’t find what you love by letting yourself be governed by dogmas or pursuing other people’s lives. Sure, discuss your interests, passions and aspirations with friends, families, strangers – anyone you feel is worth of the discussion. I’m not saying you have to shut yourself in, but I am saying that when the time comes to make the decisions that matter, the answers come from within.

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Relieve Interview Pressure

Clammy hands, stuttering, excessive sweating and verbal rambling are some of the ways that people react to pressure. No matter what your individual reaction may be, most people would agree that’s it’s easier to think clearly and perform when pressure isn’t a factor.

They have a job open. You want the job. It’s not yours yet. Logic suggests that because your interviewer is in the position of strength, the pressure is on you to perform well. And it is, we’re not talking about lollipop land here (although I do wish I got to spend more time there). No matter how nice of an individual the hiring manager may seem to be, his responsibility is to hire the best person for the company. But just because he has the authority to give you your next big break, doesn’t mean that you’re the only one with pressure on you.

With power comes responsibility. The person in charge of making the hire is under the same, if not more, pressure than you are. If someone is making $50,000, it will often cost a company over $100,000 a year to employ them; there’s training and support costs, work space and computer costs, and health and dental insurance among a myriad of other expenses that your company pays just to have you work there. Employees are expensive to have, but in many cases, they’re even more expensive to fire.

How many times have you thought someone was nice enough on first impression only to realize later that they’re kind of self-absorbed or a bit of a sketch-ball? These decisions are not always easy to make; if they were, first dates would all go swimmingly. Your future boss wants you to make this decision easy for him. Remember, he has the pressure on him to make the six-figure decision; you just need to represent yourself well.

There’s pressure inherent in any interview, don’t exacerbate the situation by letting yourself believe it’s just you on the hot seat. So next time you find yourself getting worked up about making a good impression, take a deep breath and consider how much pressure the person on the other side of the table is feeling. As long as you’ve prepared yourself well, you’ve got the easy job!

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What Teachers Make

Taylor Mali, a professional poet and passionate advocate of teachers and the difference they make, gives a genuine and powerful rendition of “what teachers make.”

A clear and inspiring reminder of how a little passion and a sense of purpose go a long way…

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Asking Great Questions: Part II

In the first blog post about asking great questions, we discussed how asking great questions can enable you to steer the interview toward a more relaxed and mutually involved “conversation” as opposed to the high-pressure “interrogation” that you sometimes get.  This is hugely valuable.  As I’ve always said, many of us put enough pressure on ourselves to perform well in an interview, we don’t need anymore.

This blog is going to focus on one of the other – and probably one of the most important – benefits from asking great questions.  Simply put, when you are in an interview, your job is to convince the company that you can add value to their organization in whatever way they feel they need that value added (this is code for “sell yourself”).  It’s remarkably straightforward, really.  They feel as if they need someone who has X, Y and Z that can help their company in A, B and C manner – all you have to do is identify what X, Y, Z and A, B and C really stand for and show them that you have those skills or abilities.

Well, we all know that things are sometimes easier said than done.  If it really were that simple, nobody would have trouble finding a job…ever.  The reality is, miscommunication, inaccurate preconceptions and ungrounded self-evaluation all exist; and these things can become monumental roadblocks in an interview, if you let them.

Of all interview tips I can think of, asking great questions has to be somewhere near the top of the list.  The right questions allow you to accurately decipher what X, Y and Z really stand for, allowing you to effectively communicate your ability to do the job.  How many times have you witnessed a discussion when one person says to the other, “you’re hearing me, but you’re not listening” or “I don’t think we’re on the same page?”  These are perfect everyday examples of simple miscommunications that lead to issues – don’t let the same happen in your interview.  Here are some of the basic questions to consider asking:

  • What’s the company culture like at ABC Corp?
  • What do you look for in a candidate?
  • What sort of projects would I be working on? (What sort of problems will I be solving?)
  • What is the most difficult aspect of the job I’m interviewing for?
  • What is the best thing about working for ABC Corp?  If you could change one thing, what would it be?
  • What do you think has been the most important contributing factor to your success here?
  • What piece of advice would you give to someone who’s starting his or her career at ABC Corp?

These are only some of the basics, but I’m sure you can imagine how listening carefully to the answers your interview is giving will allow you to paint a detailed picture of what they are looking to see.  Our company culture is one of this; that’s what we look for in a candidate; your projects will be of this nature; this is the biggest challenge for your potential job…etc.  The more they elaborate on the answers to these questions, the more informed and intelligent you’ll sound when it’s your turn to talk.  So never make an uninformed statement when a question is possible,  it’ll pay off in your interview and throughout your career.

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