No one has ever looked out the window to notice to their surprise that a beautiful lush garden was now growing in their backyard. You don’t expect large bright colored tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and melons suddenly growing without work or preparation. No, this type of garden, like great architecture, a great marriage, or a great work of art involves inspiration, planning, and execution.

Your career will be no different. Unfortunately, too often, we start a career as best we can with limited self-understanding and well-meaning advice from family and friends. But then, rather than cultivating and working at creating a satisfying career, we get caught up in the routines and obligations of daily life. If we are not careful, our career becomes a series of reactions to things that are happening around us rather than something that is inspired, planned, and managed.

For many, turning the corner to the New Year becomes the moment of inspiration, when they are awakened to the fact that things could and should be different.

If you are ready to perform an Annual Career Self-Examination, start by considering the current state of your life and work. What are you happy with? What do you want to change?

Now consider your desired state. What do you want your life and work to look like? Take some time to reflect on this.

Finally, what are the realistic and, as much as possible, measurable steps you can take in the coming year?

Here are some questions for reflection, and a link to a worksheet if you would like to use it:

  • To what degree are you enjoying your work?
  • Are you happy with the contribution you are making in the world?
  • Are you growing personally? Are you feeding your soul? Are you reading and being inspired by great ideas?
  • Do you have clarity about your strengths? Do you know what you do well and therefore have confidence in your abilities?
  • Do you communicate clearly, effectively and persuasively about your strengths? Do you have a strong personal branding message?
  • Do you have goals for your life and career? If so, are you satisfied with your progress in attaining these goals? If not, what would appropriate and reasonable goals be?

As you know, people often have great moments of inspiration in January with grand resolutions and plans for change, only to abandon them as they are choked out by the responsibilities and busyness of life. As an antidote, consider scheduling time on your calendar well in advance (at least quarterly) for reflection, evaluation, and adjustment.


Download the .pdf worksheet here:


Sometime since 2003 (LinkedIn launched in May of 2003), you received that first invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Or maybe someone asked you the cryptic question, “Are you on LinkedIn?” Since then, if you’re like most people, you have been adding the occasional connection but all the while feeling that there was much more potential to LinkedIn than you were leveraging.

Then something happens, and you find yourself in a job search. And there you are with few strategic connections and an unimpressive profile. Now what?

While some people have largely avoided social media, for most of us, it has touched many aspects of our lives from connecting with old friends, keeping up with children or grandchildren, and managing our careers. In the world of career management, in particular, LinkedIn has become a force. Yet, while most people may have a LinkedIn profile, it remains largely underutilized and misunderstood.

The following are typical of what I hear from people trying to utilize LinkedIn:

“I don’t know how to use LinkedIn effectively.”

“LinkedIn has too many options. I don’t know which ones are important.”

“I don’t have enough contacts.”

“My contacts are all in an industry in which I no longer wish to work.”

“My contacts are all where I used to live, not where I live now.”

Four fundamental uses of LinkedIn:

A place to be found. Most people hope that by having a LinkedIn profile, someone will find them online and offer them a job. While this is possible, it is not as likely as you think and might be the least significant use of LinkedIn.

While recruiters are increasingly using LinkedIn to find candidates, you are much more likely to find your new job informally. Recruiters looking at your LinkedIn profile will be looking for the same kinds of things they look for on your resume–a pedigree for the job they are recruiting for. So, if you have an excellent work history for the kind of opportunity you are pursuing and all the right keywords and certifications, it is possible someone will see your profile and contact you about a job. But, just like the old resume game, if your job history is less than ideal or you’re trying to change industries, this will be very unlikely. The truth is most people don’t have the career pedigree, no matter how talented they may be, to hope that passively being found on LinkedIn will be a useful strategy.

Building a network. Assuming you have started by connecting with the people you know, the next step is to find out who they are connected to, that might be helpful to you. These would be your second level connections. If you look up a particular company on LinkedIn and you find there are second-level connections there, this becomes a great starting place for seeking a conversation since you have a mutual acquaintance. Or, maybe your second level contact works in an industry in which you are interested. Again, because you have a shared acquaintance a conversation with this individual to uncover industry knowledge can be very beneficial. As you can see, I’m talking about leveraging LinkedIn to get conversations with people rather than just adding sterile Internet “contacts” that are meaningless.

Research. By following a company on LinkedIn, you will not only gain insight into what is going on with the organization, but you can also see who is coming and going in that organization (this will be especially true for larger companies). For example, if there is a new director in a particular department there may well be changes coming. It may be a good time to approach someone in that department especially if you feel you have a value proposition relevant to departmental needs. Don’t wait for a job to be posted, be proactive and approach it less formally.

Personal branding. This is one of the most powerful uses of LinkedIn. Let’s start with three key opportunities in your LinkedIn profile.

First, take advantage of the profile headline. This should be more than your current job title and company you work for (that information will be in your job history anyway). If your title and company are impressive, it is fine to include it; however, there is an opportunity here to make a bigger statement about your professional brand.

Which makes a more powerful statement?

Vice President of Internet Marketing, XYZ, Inc.


Online Marketing Officer. Expert in SEO, Social Media, Email Marketing, PPC, and Mobile Advertising

The second example speaks more to the difference you can make and therefore comes across stronger.

Second, make the most of the Summary. Here you have a tremendous opportunity to send a clear and compelling professional branding message. It’s very important that you don’t just start composing your summary without considering who it is you’re trying to reach. Who is your target audience, those for whom you have a value proposition? What do you want them to know about you?

With your target audience in mind, start a very rough draft of things you may want to use. Make it your personal brainstorming session.

Include short statements of quantifiable achievements, things you love, things that are important to you

What are the things that make you stand out, that differentiate you from others who do the same kind of work? Be specific and give brief examples.

Also, include things that make you interesting. Unique awards, mountains climbed, languages learned, other hobbies or interests.

Remember this will be a work in progress rather than a once and for all final product. You will be tweaking and making changes to your LinkedIn summary as you learn more about yourself and discover better ways to communicate your brand.

As you look through your draft material with your target audience in mind, you want to start your summary with something that will give it a little “pop.” Make those first two lines cause them to want to see more.

While it is not a hard and fast rule, I encourage you to write it in first person. It will come across warmer and more personable. Remember it is, after all, social media.

Once you have composed your summary, test it. Share it with a handful of people – peers, friends, a coach. Be sure they are people who understand your work and your value proposition. Use their insights to edit your summary. Now you’re ready to post it in your profile.

Creating an excellent background summary is an art, and you may want to get some help. You want the summary to be strong. But if you’re overly braggadocios, it looks like you’re trying too hard. The challenge for most job seekers is that they lack the objectivity to see they are coming across too eager or too needy and this diminishes the perception of their value.

The third opportunity is in the Featured Skills & Endorsements section. Here, you want to enter your Motivated Skills (the things you do best and enjoy most). Resist the temptation to make this a catchall; listing everything you have ever done even the things you don’t particularly enjoy–it comes across a little too desperate.

There is so much that can be done with LinkedIn that it can seem overwhelming. But if you start with the idea that LinkedIn is a powerful personal branding tool and a means to work toward actually having conversations and meetings with people in the companies and industries in which you are interested, you’ll be far better off than if you are just adding sterile “contacts.”


giftI’m amazed at how often I hear people say, “I’m putting off my job search until after the holidays. Nobody’s hiring now.”

The truth is, job-hunting during the holiday season is a great way to gain a competitive advantage over those taking a break and putting their searches on hold until next year. The holiday season is a prime time to search for a new career opportunity because there are some unique advantages. Rather than slowing down, the holidays are a great time to step up your job search.

The following are some of the benefits of continuing your job search during the holidays:

Less competition: There is generally less competition for roughly the same number of jobs. So, a higher percentage of job-seekers may find positions with fewer people actively looking.

Better access to decision-makers: It may be easier to connect with decision-makers during the holidays. Business travel falls off during the holidays so the people you need to talk to or more likely to be around. They may have less hectic schedules and even answer their own phones due to vacationing admins and receptionists.

Newly created openings: Because the fiscal year coincides with the calendar year for many companies, new yearly budgets open the way for new positions.  December job hunters can get a jump on being considered for January job opportunities.

Jump-start the new year: Managers with fresh goals for the new year want talented people on board in early January to help them achieve their objectives and targets. They may even want to use slow times in December to get new team members up to speed.

Goodwill in the air: People are friendlier at this time of year. You will likely find that people are more willing to take time to visit and talk with you. For someone who is well prepared to talk specifically about their value proposition to an organization, this is a huge advantage.

By taking advantage of these holiday job search dynamics, you just may find yourself celebrating the New Year with a new career opportunity.


Interview_FrustrationsRichard’s eyes lit up when he saw the job posted. He couldn’t help but smile. He was perfect for the job. He just knew it. Once he completed the online application, he was sure it would only be a short time before he received a call for an interview. He was shocked when in just a few days he received an email indicating he did not meet their qualifications. “How could this happen?” he thought.

Nancy hung up after her phone interview discouraged that she did not feel she had personally connected with the interviewer. She felt like she was struggling to really convey her value over the phone. She was sure she would have been more effective in person.

Ruben had been very excited about the opportunity for which he was interviewing, and the enthusiasm people within the organization had shown toward him. When he found out later that he had come in second, being that close made the disappointment that much greater.

Most job seekers experience a combination of stress and discouragement when it comes to interviews, or the lack thereof. Here are some of the more common challenges:

Not Getting the Interview

Most people have been there. Scanning job boards and company websites for that “right” position. And there it is. It seems like it was written just for you. The correlation between the requirements and your experience and abilities is startling. You eagerly prepare your application or resume for submission. And then you wait… and wait… and wait. “What is wrong with these people?!” you think to yourself. “Can’t they see it? I’m perfect for this job.”

In all likelihood, by the time you saw on the job post, they already knew who they wanted. They may have been posting the job as a formality. Even if they did not have someone in mind from the beginning, word of mouth has spread. Current employees have been telling their friends and acquaintances about the developing opportunity and someone has already emerged as a strong candidate. The odds of a sterile resume or application beating them out is unlikely at this point. And then there is the fact that even if no leading candidate has yet emerged, you are now likely one of hundreds of applicants, many of whom saw the posting with the same initial optimism you had.

At this point, a number of people think they need to get more education or certifications to make their resume better. Improving your resume by adding credentials is not a bad idea, but it will likely have a modest effect. The odds work against you when you are one of the masses. Your best bet is to have a strategy to develop new targeted contacts, which will not only help you in your current search but bring potential long-term benefit as well.

Phone Interviews

I once heard someone say that having a phone interview is like trying to run a sprint with snow skis on; it is difficult to be effective. Many people feel that the interviewer doesn’t really get to know you. It has an impersonal feel to it. To overcome this, you can do a couple of things in addition to your normal interview preparation. First, smile. When you smile, it brings a warmth and friendliness to your voice that the interviewer will sense. Also, stand and use hand gestures. Obviously, the interviewer can’t see you, but standing and using hand gestures will animate your voice and give it energy. This can make a significant difference in how the interviewer thinks of and remembers you. Skype interviews enable you to see the person but it is still not the same. Sometimes, there can be a slight delay which can be both annoying and unnerving. Again, be sure to smile and consider practicing with Skype or FaceTime so that you become more relaxed and comfortable using the technology.

Interviewer Competence

Job seekers frequently tell me they experience interviews in which they feel the interviewer lacks sufficient expertise for evaluating their talent. This is more likely in an initial interview when the task seems more about screening than selecting the right candidate. A recruiter may be charged with looking for specifics (education, certifications, industry experience, etc.) and simply lack the knowledge and perspective for what a particular candidate has to offer. Sometimes, an interviewer may simply be having a bad day. They may be tired because they have talked with a lot of candidates. Other responsibilities may be distracting them. Nonetheless, it is important not to become frustrated and to communicate warmth and professionalism. These are the things you can control.

No Feedback

When you don’t get an interview, don’t make it to the next round of interviews, or don’t get the job, you want to know why. It’s natural; you want to know what you can work on or improve to give yourself a better chance next time. In the vast majority of cases, you will not get any feedback. First, the interviewer is not going to risk saying the wrong thing and create a potential hiring incident. Second, they don’t want to let you down or hurt your feelings, so they avoid talking with you. Occasionally, you may hear that you are “overqualified.” In some instances, this may be true. In most cases, it is a bit of a backhanded compliment designed to appease you.

If you want to know how you are coming across, get a set of typical interview questions (largely behavioral/performance-based) and find someone you know that is a recruiter or has experience as a hiring manager and role-play the interview with them. Ask for ruthless feedback.

Always a Bridesmaid

Coming in second, that’s tough. Of course, you got further than most, but that is little consolation. You didn’t get the job, period. If you find yourself coming in second, it may be time to consider taking things up a notch. Increasing your effectiveness in communicating your value proposition and better distinguishing yourself from your competition may involve nuances and subtleties that you are unaccustomed to dealing with. Since you are rarely addressing these issues, it may be time to find a coach that works with people on these things all the time. Be sure to find one with a reputation for personal marketing and branding.

The bottom line:

  1. Understand what is really happening. The job market is not as much about ”openings” as it appears. It is more about opportunities that tend to develop more informally. Work on becoming the informal candidate. When someone has met you and begins to see how you can help their organization, you will notice that moment when things turn more formal and you will be the one with the advantage.
  2. Be clear about your message. Know what you want to communicate. Don’t expect an interviewer to figure it out. Be prepared to get your message across even if you are not asked the right questions. Don’t go into an interview without knowing something about the organization’s objectives or problems and how you can make a contribution.
  3. Don’t get frustrated. If you do, don’t let it show.
  4. Communicate warmth, professionalism, and energy. Strength and likability are attractive qualities.

Stand_Out_Apples Do you have particular skills or training that distinguish you in your field and enable you to command premium compensation? In his ebook Personal Branding for Technology Professionals (don’t be fooled by the title, it applies to all of us), Rajesh Setty reminds us that in most cases, over time, others will pursue the skills or training that allow you to command premium compensation, making those skills a commodity, thus driving down the price for those skills. While maintaining good skills and training is important, staying ahead of the skills/training/certification  commodity game is difficult. The solution is to develop a strong personal brand that communicates a clear message about your value in the marketplace. For what kind(s) of problems/situations are you known as the “go-to” person? Who, beyond the people you work with, knows you are the “go-to” person for these things ? Your answer to this question will indicate the strength of your brand.




Whether you are watching your preferred morning news and talk television show, searching the Internet, or talking with a career expert, if the topic is job search, the advice will be the same. You already know it. You have heard it many times. The best way to find a job, especially a more desirable one, is through networking. This gives you an uneasy feeling because you know your network is not very strong. Like most people, all you have been concerned about is the quality of your work and performing well for your employer; you were not thinking about building a network.

Networking Challenges

  1. Most people’s existing network is inadequate to significantly assist them in their job search. For most of us, our existing network is made up of people we have worked with in the past, people we attend church or other groups with, and people in our neighborhood. In most cases, it has not been strategically thought out and cultivated.
  2. There is likely a diminishing return on your network over time. When you start your career, almost everyone you know is at your level or above. As your career grows, fewer of the people you know are at a sufficient level of influence to assist you in getting into an organization. In fact, as you grow in compensation and responsibility, the number of opportunities at each successive level decreases. Moreover, you may have lost track of some of the people you have known through the years because they have either moved away or changed industries altogether.
  3. Networking events are often uncomfortable and time-consuming. Many feel “pressing the flesh” at professional association meetings and networking mixers seems inauthentic. If it is the 11th hour and you really need a job, the odds of meeting someone in such gatherings that will quickly lead to an opportunity are not great. This really should be part of a longer-term, overall strategy in which you are developing contacts for potential future mutual benefit. However, there is no time like the present to get started.
  4. Most networking attempts are too anemic and circuitous. Sending an email blast to people you know to tell them you are now looking for a job is not networking. Having lunch with an old co-worker or college classmate and letting them know you are “on the market” is not networking. Hoping you know someone who knows someone who knows of an opportunity is a long shot. Networking is about the new contacts you are developing that are in a place to really be of help.

Natalie’s Story*

Natalie was in the midst of the biggest career transition of her life. After consulting with her career coach on industries of interest, she read an industry article about recent trends and events. She identified two companies that she was particularly interested in exploring. With the assistance of her coach, she researched the companies and identified key decision-makers and contact information. Together, they crafted an email designed to initiate an informal dialog. Natalie then emailed the two decision-makers asking for a brief meeting to get their advice and insight. Within two days, both responded and agreed to meet with her.

The meeting with the first decision-maker resulted in positive feedback, industry insight, and referrals to other industry decision-makers. The meeting with the second decision-maker, Mr. Dennison, was extremely positive. By the time Natalie got home, he had emailed her three separate times indicating the steps he was taking to see if he could uncover an opportunity for her in his organization. She received a follow-up call the same day in which he revealed, “I want to hire you and if I can’t work that out, I will do what I can to help you find another opportunity in our industry.” Natalie received an offer from Mr. Dennison’s organization. It was one of three offers she got before making a decision.

Turbocharge Your Networking

Neither Natalie nor her coach knew Mr. Dennison previously. But she was able to cultivate an informal dialogue that allowed him to discover her.

Here are four questions to help focus your networking:

  1. What are the companies and/or industry spaces that interest me?
  2. Who are the influential people in those spaces? Depending on your professional level, you will probably be looking for someone at a director level or above. If you’re just starting your career you may be looking for someone at a managerial level. It will help if these are people who care about the kind of work that you do or the difference you can make in an organization.
  3. What is my personal brand and value proposition? Your personal brand is your message to the marketplace at-large concerning the kind of results you get. Your value proposition is more directly focused on how you can help an organization achieve its objectives within a specific context. Have a story to tell, with specifics about the kind of difference you have been able to make.
  4. What is going to be an effective approach to start an informal conversation? This is where most people tend to feel a little clueless. Too often, we betray ourselves by looking like a needy job seeker. Like Natalie, all you want is an informal dialogue and information. Rather than you pressing them for a job, let them discover you.

Tools and Tactics

  1.  Join LinkedIn groups that touch on your target industry spaces. Groups give you increased access to people who are not directly in your network but belong to the group.
  2. Follow companies of interest on LinkedIn. This may give you some insight into company activity and possible information on key employees.
  3. Consider a subscription to the local business journal. This is a great source of market information and can help you identify key decision-makers.
  4. Use Google Alerts to keep up with companies and industries. For example, you could set up an alert for “Biotech San Antonio” and receive new information daily via email.

Natalie’s existing network was not sufficient for her career transition objectives. However, she was able to successfully develop the new contacts she needed.

Think of this targeted contact development approach not just as an effective job search strategy in the short term, but also a means to cultivate a far more substantial network for your future.


*Names changed for privacy considerations.









No. Who do you really work for?

Jim was the CFO for a well known university for 15 years. During that time three presidents had come and gone. Then came president #4. Jim had a good relationship with the previous presidents. But with this new president, the chemistry was off and they didn’t see eye to eye. It wasn’t long until Jim was out. He never saw it coming. Jim had bought into the idea that as long as his performance was good, he was secure. However, these things are not rational, they are relational. This is why most terminations happen after a change in leadership. Jim thought, “Presidents may come and go, but I am still here. I work for the University.” Jim was wrong. Jim had always worked for the president. That relationship had always been good until president #4.

The organization’s name may be on your direct deposit slip, but you are working for a person. As long as that person is benefiting from your ideas and productivity, and the relationship is good, your employment is relatively secure. If, due to a change in leadership or whatever, that relationship becomes strained, there is a good chance your time is short with that organization in spite of your stellar performance. Don’t be caught by surprise.

So, who do you work for?


personal_brandThink of your brand as performance (the quality and nature of your work) + message (communication about the quality, nature, and especially results of your work). Not everyone sees your work. The stronger and clearer your message, the easier word about your performance will travel. If you lack performance, your brand will break down eventually for being inauthentic. If you lack the message, word about your value proposition will not spread as readily and you are more likely to be taken for granted.


6869768383_84f708306e_zScenario 1: You’ve heard about a job posting from a friend and you go to the company’s website and sure enough, there it is. As you read the posting, you know you’re a perfect fit. You begin the application and are cruising through when all of a sudden, there it is – the income box. Your situation is not that simple. Your income has varied. You’ve chosen opportunities for their potential that didn’t pan out or you were in a situation where you were earning far more than you would normally expect to. “Surely, there’s a place to put my explanation,” you think to yourself. You nervously look for it but there is none. Just the income box with a little asterisk indicating it is required.

Scenario 2: You have successfully made contact with a decision-maker in a company in which you are very interested. You have arranged an informal meeting over a cup of coffee. The meeting goes better than you could’ve hoped. You have synergy and chemistry with this decision-maker, and the conversation turns toward possibilities. You are aware that you have crossed a threshold and this is now a serious conversation about a possible opportunity. And then it comes. “What are your salary requirements?” he asks. Wait, this is just an informal meeting over coffee! It’s too soon to be talking about money! You have this horrible deer-in-the-headlights feeling.

For most job seekers, questions about income are among the most challenging and frustrating.  The reason is for most of us, our career has not followed a neat and tidy pattern of progression and our income history reflects this. It’s also because our value proposition is unique to each organization and situation. We bring more value to one organization than to another.


As you approach the income question, there are natural concerns. You don’t want to leave money on the table. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market. You don’t want to become the bargain employee either. People often think, “I’ll go in low and once I prove myself, I’ll work my way up to an appropriate salary.” While there are exceptions, this is often a mistake. Why? Because people love their bargains. We all like being on the right side of a good deal. I dare say you have never purchased something at a bargain price, loved it so much that you went back and paid the difference to the full price. People love their bargains and employers are no different. Worst of all, when you’re the bargain employee, you have given up more than just money.

The Money Matters

You may think of your compensation primarily in terms of what you want to provide for your family and your personal goals. In the marketplace, it is tied to other things. First and foremost, it is tied to your value to the organization. You may be tempted to think that you have a static market value but this is not the case. The degree to which an organization needs the things that you can bring to it with your value proposition will determine, in large measure, what they are willing to pay you. As you manage your career, one of the questions you want to continually ask yourself is, “To which organizations can I be most valuable?” This will significantly impact your job satisfaction. If you’re highly valued by an organization, that will typically lead to more respect and more autonomy. Conversely, if you’re underpaid, you’re likely undervalued and receiving less respect and less autonomy.


If you’re filling out an online application, this is a difficult situation. “Negotiable” or “glad to discuss in interview” may successfully dodge the question; however, some may frown upon it and exclude you. The safest way to handle this (if you prefer to be safe) is to do your homework, research the range for the position, and enter a number that is not too expensive and not too cheap but is reflective of a strong candidate. This reveals yet another disadvantage to online applications and why a targeted contact development strategy that leads to more informal dialogue with decision-makers is much more effective.

If you are in a formal interview or a less formal dialogue with a decision-maker, here are three proven techniques for deferring the compensation question:

Discussing salary is always challenging for me until I feel like I fully understand the requirements of the position and the challenges of the organization. Could we talk more about that?

I’m sure you have something budgeted for this position. What is the range you had in mind?

I’m sure if we both believe I’m the right person for the job, we will be able to agree on something that works for both of us. Can we discuss more about the nature and scope of the position?

In most cases, because your response is reasonable, the conversation will move on. On rare occasions, you may have an interviewer who will go into pit bull mode and not let go without a number. At this point, you need to know your desired number, your acceptable number, and your not worth it number. Then you want to respond with something like, “I’d like to be around (desired number) but would consider (acceptable number) depending on the situation.

Buy Time to Build Value

While some people think it’s best to get the salary question out of the way and not waste anyone’s time, I typically disagree. You want time to build the perception of your value to the organization. You want them to see how you can help them achieve their objectives and solve their problems. The greater their perception of your value, the more they will be willing to pay you.

Income questions can be challenging and like most job search challenges, they are most difficult when you are simply one of many applicants. This is why you really want to engage in a methodical strategy to cultivate informal dialogue with decision-makers wherever possible. When this happens, income questions become more easily connected to your value proposition to the organization. This is the kind of income conversation you really want to have.


lebron-jamesYesterday when LeBron James announced his intention to return to Cleveland, the media world was filled with discussion as to what was behind the decision.

As I read LeBron’s essay, one word stood out. Calling.

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”

Calling is that sense of purpose in life that attempts to answer that deep and haunting question, “Why am I here?”

I find it refreshing that LeBron seems to believe that his talent and visibility bring with them both the opportunity and responsibility to make a difference, and thus fulfill his calling.

For most of us, thoughts about our calling are crowded out by life’s pressing demands and occasionally by our own personal ambitions. Meanwhile, time goes by. The seemingly urgent all too often trumps the important.

Is it time to carve out some time to yourself to think and reflect deeply about your calling?