Getting to the Next You: Employment Contract or Employability Compact?

I have loved and continue to love my professional magazines. They’re like little boxes of chocolates that show up each month, and I don’t know what I’ll find until I open them.

The most recent gem comes from a team of writers, including LinkedIn’s CEO Reid Hoffman. Titled, “Tours of Duty: The New Employee-Employer Compact,” Hoffman and team speak the changed (not changing – changed) world of employment.

I think this brilliant, and glad to hear others do too. Key points, that well, sound kind of familiar, include

I love the contrast that comes through – are you hiring into a contract for employment, or looking for a compact to improve employability? I hope you’re getting what you want.

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My Top 10-ish Points on Starting Your Career (or Re-Starting, Again)

Digging out from a backlog of “sort it out later” emails, I came across some career advice I shared with some up-and-coming professionals. They all got bits and pieces of what follows, but the consolidated list is probably more useful for those with big changes still ahead of them. (This lacks the witty elegance of a Vonnegut-esque commencment speech, but you did’t expected that.)

1. Be honest with yourself, and start doing what you love now. I know that everyone has expectations of what you could and should do, but starting (or re-starting) your professional adult life is a great time to think about who you want to be for you.

Ask yourself, “What do I like to do with my free time?” or “What would I do for free if money wasn’t an object?” or “What would I do if I could be anything for a day without constraints?” When you free yourself from expectations (your own and those of others), you’ll begin to hear your inner voice giving you solid advice.

2. Be prepared to be honest with prospective employers too. You can be confident, willing, and ready, but don’t start a new relationship with half-truths (this is good advice outside the job setting too, but you knew that already, right?)

This requires a bit of due-diligence on your part, too, which is where informal interviews come in (see below). If earning an income is more about supporting a non-work passion, don’t make false commitments to a company that needs you 60-hours a week. Equally, if you are hoping to have a beach house in Malibu, don’t expect to work a 40-hour-week and get there on 5% annual performance raises in the corporate world. Size your passions, and pursue accordingly.

3. Remember that life is a gamble, and you only get rewarded for the risks you take. I’m not suggesting you do something totally outlandish, but you should keep in mind that the perfect job isn’t going to show up on your doorstep, asking you to apply.

Odds are, the “perfect job” at 23 is going to be very different at 32, and again at 45. “Perfect” will change over time, so think about the reward (aka emotional, intellectual, professional, financial) that you may only be willing to risk everything for at this stage of life.

As I get older, I find myself asking if I’m taking enough risks. My few regrets are less about what I did do, and far more often what I didn’t do. Go for your “perfect” today, but be mindful that it can’t compromise your future.

4. Sadly, it isn’t “what you know,” but “who you know” that can make all the difference. (Also thought of as “Spray and pray” isn’t going to get you employed.) Once you’ve given it some honest reflection about what you are willing and able to do successfully, let everyone know.

Your parents, their friends, the neighbors, people at church, and even the random people you chat with in the park. In small and large companies alike, getting your name to the right person at the right time trumps a platinum resume every time.

5. You can’t have too many “informational interviews” when you are thinking about what to do with your professional life. Your chief job right now is to be a conversationalist – be an engaged listener, active and present participant, and follow-up with hand-written “thank you” cards.

Talk with as many people as you can earn a living doing things that sound the even the least bit interesting to you. You never know where that magical opportunity will come from, and at the least you begin making a wide number of professional connections.

(A bit of an aside – not all professional conversations are professional, and not all personal conversations are personal. I think the difference between “professional” and “personal” is based first on the nature of the conversation, and second on the types of interactions between people. When you are looking for work or the next big opportunity, you need to be having more professional conversations than personal. The interactions will come – either on the job, or as you mature and become a larger consumer of professional services.)

6. Come to the search effort with a learner’s mind, a measure of humility. Remember that everyone you encounter likely has more work experience than you – in balancing work and life, running small businesses, navigating organizational politics, or getting along successfully in work groups. You can learn a lot everywhere you turn. Everyone has been in your shoes before.

7. The job market is always good for those with passion, tenacity, and a willingness to be a humble learner. No one works in “the market” – we all work with and for people, in organizations that a multitude of exciting and mundane things.

The same traits I look for when hiring experienced resources are those that help a new professional get started. (These are also traits that I hope to demonstrate when meeting potential clients and collaborators for the first time.)

(a) Are you personable? Could I imagine working with you all day, every day, for years on end? (You should be asking this yourself of every person you meet, too). You want to be seen as pleasant enough to be around – full stop.

(b) Does this person have a passion? It may not be work, but they have to have something that is central to finding happiness in life. We all want to surround ourselves with bright capable people, and passion = interesting, which goes a long way.

(c) Do you seem like a person that sticks with a tough task? Job hunting can be hard, but so are a multitude of other really important tasks. Most potential employers will want to know that, if given the accountability, you can be counted on to get the work done. Demonstrating this attitude from the start goes a long way (remember, only one chance to make a good first impression).

(d) Do you have a learner’s mind? That is, are you open to the idea that you may not already have all the answers? The best experts I know manage to maintain an openness to fresh ideas, even if fields of expertise where they have 20+ years of history and practice.

8. If you are just sitting around wishing for work, volunteer in your community. It will get you out of your house, circulating with people and feeling like you’re doing something good. It will also bring you in contact with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, which increases your odds.

9. Start building a work track record of something. Odds are you need money anyway, so find odd jobs or sling coffee for a while. Even in the worst job markets, I’ve been impressed with the integrity and commitment that people have shown by taking not-so-perfect jobs while they prepared for that better opportunity. Sitting around all day dreaming about what could be won’t get you there. You want to write? Write. You want to be a professional speaker – get out there. You can begin becoming your better future self now (kind of a spooky thought).

10. You should always be creating more options for yourself. Think about your career as a performance portfolio – one in which expertise and breadth create more options. Everything we do ultimately factors into how we see the world, so don’t dismiss the less “professional” experiences you gain.

If you are going to be a barista, become expert on the nuances of coffee, and pour with artistic flair. If you are going to swing a hammer, learn how your work fits into the larger project and understand what characteristics distinguish a “journeyman” from a craftsman.

If an opportunity presents itself that allows you to explore, grow, or discover new things about who you are becoming, and creates a better series of future alternatives than the course you are presently on, it’s probably a good bet.

11. Show kindness to those you meet today. Know that every interaction you have may be with a future customer, supplier, collaborator, employer, or employee. The world is a very small place, and getting smaller all the time. My wife asks my 8-year-old son each day, “Did you treat people with kindness today,” which seems like a really good question for all of us.

What you do today, and the impressions you make, contribute to the reputation you have going forward. With a hat-tip to the famous Warren Buffett quote, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see on Facebook.”


I’d love to hear from you too – what is some of the best advice you’ve given or recieved? Did it make a difference in how you approached your career?

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The Power of Words

Have you run your resume through a word cloud generator to see what you are saying most often to prospective employers? What about your personal or corporate blog? 
Wordle: MoreThanALiving

What we say – especially in today’s hyper-connected world – can say much more than we meant it to. Or not enough of the important stuff. When I ran our own MTAL through Wordle, I was a little bit surprised at what came back. I had expected big words like “PASSION,” or “CAREER,” or “ACCOUNTABILITY.”

I (naively) didn’t expect to see WORK, CLIENT, KNOW, or SOMETHING (really? do we use “something” so often? no idea).

And this got me to thinking about the communication dilemma: we might say and mean something, and in a specific context, and with the right mood lighting, and with a listener’s head cocked at just the right angle, they are understanding us. We’re transmitting 5-by-5. They’re picking up what we’re putting down…. you get the picture, I hope.

The thing is, folks don’t always hear what we think we’re saying. They hear what they think we should be saying. This means that if we’re intent on getting our point across, we need to be clear with our message, and retell our story in several different ways at different times to increase the likelihood that our message is being received.

For the MTAL word cloud, it seems that so many of the ideas, the core concepts we thought we were ranting about (and tagging with) didn’t show up. Because they were flagged as categories in a tool, and not printed in big bold letters.

Maybe we should be saying more things explicitly like

  • You are not an employee. You are Talent.
  • Only you can define and shape your personal brand. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently.
  • Accountability = Trust = Speed of Execution & Delegation = Success.
  • Autonomy = Accountability.
  • Autonomy = Ownership = Accomplishment = Satisfaction.
  • If you aren’t getting better every day, becoming increasingly agile, increasingly proficient working in a high concept, high touch world, you’re just getting older.
  • Get engaged in your work, and bring your whole self to the show. Everyday.
  • Mediocrity will suffocate quiet diligence and the gentle flicker of hope every day of the week.
  • Passion realized > Paycheck.

We’ll see what we can do to make sure we are talking straight. When we stray, tell us. And if we’re being obtuse, skip our rants and head to the postulates.

Posted in Accountability, Agility, Autonomy, Branding, Communication, Diagrams, Passion, Talent | Leave a comment

Are You Excitable?

It’s been awhile. Hello again. How’s the family? Yeah, the sun is starting to sneak out here in the northwest too. Yeah, I’ve been listening to a little Def Leopard, too.

Ok, enough small talk. Onto the story.

Rick and I wrestle with this recurring issue of  performance and feedback (the impetus to kumquat, after all). Not all the work we do could be considered a “performance,” and not all praise and criticism should be interpreted as performance-related “feedback.” We still spin on this, though.

Driving home from a client meeting yesterday, I was playing back our discussions over and over again. My collaborator and I had talked after the client meeting afterward, and he asked the question, “Do you think they are happy with our work?”

In my mind, it tumbled to a few questions:

  1. Does the client (or my manager, or my co-worker) know what makes them happy in their work? Are they excitable when it comes to their work?
  2. Did I even consider asking what the difference between “contractual delivery” and “delighted client reference” would look like?
  3. Does this project have anything to do with my clients’ happiness quotient?
  4. Have I tried to link my work to making my client happier (or their life easier, or their career more successful)?

I don’t know that they are “happy” with our work. I know that they are satisfied (which is very milk-toast). I know that they are appreciative (and I am too when the barrista makes me coffee, or someone does a task I just want completed but may not want to perform). But I haven’t asked them what would make them ecstatic about the ‘refinements in project management practices’ work I’m doing for them. 

I never asked.

Maybe I’m spinning. Maybe they are just shy, and are uncomfortable glowing over the work product in the group meetings. Maybe they are telling their families over dinner what a life-changing contribution our work is making in their organization.

I doubt it. And I’m now a bit embarrassed about it.

I’ve totally bungled the expectation management opportunity with this client to-date. I could have been cultivating an evangelist that would sing our praises from the rooftops.

At best, I would guess that the reference would be something like, “Yes, they did some work for us. Yes, they were competent. Yes, they delivered what they committed to doing.” Not a referral I’m going to point future customers to, and not a reference that tells a future client, “This guy can help you be a rockstar.”

Looks like I need to be scheduling a lunch conversation, and asking some long-overdue questions on expectations.

So you may be thinking, “That is a sad story, but not one I can relate to. I’m an employee, and don’t need client referrals or evangelists roaming the city streets ‘selling’ me.” But that would wrong-headed, now wouldn’t it?

We all need evangelists. Advocates.  Referrals.

Every great professional opportunity began with a first impression, and the best came about because someone helped create excitement around getting me involved. We all need cheerleaders that can rally support, boost the energy, and get the blood pressure up in a good way.

We all want to do meaningful, important, exciting work. Not just you and the folks you chat with over lunch. I’m thinking of your boss’ boss, and that guy in Accounting that drives you nuts and is never satisfied. And that sales guy that is always non-plussed by your best effort.

To get more out of your work, you need to ask for help. Try setting the expectation for “delighted” or “excited” or “excellent” delivery at your next opportunity. It will certainly be harder, but will likely prove more valuable to both of you.

Posted in Communication, consulting, Expectations, Happiness, Performance, Reputation, Uncategorized, Value | Leave a comment

Rocket Surgery? Nice Niche

Hey there. Long time, huh? Hope your weekend was a good one.

So, Sunday morning, and I’m enjoying the Sunday New York Times in my cloud-shrouded  sun room with a cup of my favorite blend. Of coffee.

I love to read the local business section back-to-back with the NYT, where I find this guidance for up-and-comers:

Make sure people know who you are and that you stand for who you are. Be unique about something. Be a specialist in something. Be known for something….What’s different about you – that’s your personal brand.

And this is from Barry Salzberg, pending-CEO of Deloitte, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the world. A tax specialist. An attorney. A respected expert in his field and firm.

What does it mean to be an expert? To be passionate about your work? It may be important for me personally, but is it a good business move?

When the head of a world-class organization like Deloitte is giving this advice, it sure seems to have some merit. In the world of professional services, the conversation starts and end with personal brand – people are buying you and what you know. Not a t-shirt, not a cup of coffee, not chicken leashes for their virtual farm animals.

Your expertise. Your track record. Your ability to help satisfy a real business need.

It does make me grin when you see your message being spread by others (not that we’ve owned ‘brand yourself,’ as I think Tom Peters gets to claim that in a refresh on the age-old reputation management theme). Not a smug, self-satisfied grin, but an “amen!” kind of grin.

Happy Monday, and do something to add to your uniquely brilliant track record. Make today the first day of your next evolution. Or revolution.

Posted in Branding, Reputation, Uncategorized, Value | Leave a comment

Where is your Focus?

Sometimes a concept is framed in such a powerful way that you feel required to share it (this view may resonate differently with MBA-types). Balaji Krishnamurthy at LogiStyle offers this paradigm to help CEO’s focus their scarce attention:

A good way to examine where a CEO should focus their time is to ask whether the CEO is making an income statement contribution or a balance sheet contribution. Note that some balance sheet contributions create intangible assets, not just “financial assets” such as developing people. Income statement contributions are: easy to recognize; can usually be well defined, quantified and measured; have a more “immediate impact” as in, this period or this year; and their impact is a onetime event.

While I find this to be an invaluable way to think about effort for business leaders, I was also reading this as “CEO of Brand You.”

  • Are you too dialed into your “income statement” needs to think about tomorrow? Eating everything you kill in-the-moment?
  • Are you making the necessary longer-term “balance sheet” investments today to make your work more valuable (or smoother) tomorrow?
  • Are you developing new skills (akin to capital improvements in finance speak), or gaining new capabilities (think process improvements)?

As a rule of thumb, CEOs should focus more of their time on developing balance sheet assets and be more willing to delegate income statement responsibility to their qualified executives.

If you are spending all your time doing the same thing you did last year, ask yourself “is this what I want to be doing next year, too?” The only way you are going to jump the tracks is to expand your capabilities.

What can you do you to create the capacity at Brand You to enhance your capabilities? Sleep less? Delegate? Stop saying yes to low-value work?

Posted in Career, Focus, Leadership | 1 Comment

Searching for happiness in your work? This diagram may help

Happiness in business

(Image courtesy Bud Caddell. Used under Creative Commons.)

Posted in Career, Diagrams, Happiness | 1 Comment

Tackling the No-Accountability Wasteland

There is an uncomfortable, anxious pang that wells up in you when the halls have been empty for hours, and you know that you and the janitor are the only people in the building, again. You feel like maybe the fault is yours, that you aren’t quite working effective enough, that you could manage to get home at a reasonable hour if only you could better manage your time.

But you get sucked into tangential conversations all day. You find problems that need your attention at every turn. Every hallway conversation you overhear gives you the chills, fearing that people are going to act on the half-truths you hear spoken as gospel. Your only salvation (sigh) is that, for all the dis-information going around, little real action is being taken, so the many misunderstandings will remain just that. No one is responsible, no one is stepping up, and no one expects it.

You my friend are living in an No-Accountability Wasteland. (Alternatively, your expectations may simply be too dramatically out of step with the organization, in which case it will always feel like a wasteland, a sign that you probably haven’t found your right fit.)

I get how this happens. Status quo has been good enough for long enough. Change is viewed as rocking the boat. Challenging the norm is calling into question the environment that is in place, that is a reflection of today’s leadership. Many of those around you have a very real, vested stake in preserving the situation as it stands today.

Such wastelands are targets. Targets for acquisitions, targets for customer poaching by competitors, targets for talent scouts willing to take the last innovators out of your organization (assuming your not down to your C-stringers). Businesses operate in a dynamic environment, and must learn to flex with changing demands and competitive threats. If you still nuture a spark of aspiration and a hint of interest in furthering the lot of your fellow man, here are a few considerations for getting things turned around.

  • Preach (and monitor) Accountability through SMART goals. No one likes management by acronym, but SMART goals are brilliant. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. Being the frustrated but brilliant leader you are, find ways to ensure that your requests and requirements meet the SMART formula without explicitly spelling out the term.
  • ABS – Always be Shopping (not the brakes). Few love the perpetual state of recruitment, but if folks dodge tasks like the plague, you need to hit the streets. And your professional organizations; and your alumni network; and your past colleagues for referrals. You should always be looking to build a talent funnel – this is an exact parallel to the sales funnel, with everything from casual interactions to warm leads to hot candidates ready for offers. Human Capital Management – from prospecting through retention and development – must become as strategic a process as sales. If you want the best talent, you need to hire capable sales people into your HR organization, or continue to pay exorbitant fees to external parties to flood you with resumes that are meaningless.
  • Start Chanting, “You See It, You Own It”. Setting expectations for such ownership and managing to them drives quality into a business, even as it makes it abundantly clear that the apathy of coasters and free-riders won’t be an integral part of the future.
  • Keeping Brewing the Accountability Punch. No solo act goes unpunished for long, so broadening your base of change-agent constituents is mandatory. Remember that converts make the most rabid evangelists, so target a few key influencers within the organization with your Kool-Aid.

To be sure, few folks are actually charged with helping organizations change their cultural values, and it is the rare hiring manager that recognizes the important and time-consuming task that is influencing change. But if you are intent on building your career – and don’t want to be forging ahead alone – prepare to make substantial investments when you find no “there” there.

Posted in Accountability, Career, Corporate Culture | 4 Comments

Creating Options at Brand "You"

You’re tired of the race. Tired of working tirelessly in shifting sands of corporate America as an exempt FTE. But you do it with the hope of the BIG payday. You’ve got options in the company, and it seems that if everyone just works a little harder, the pay-off will come.

But what if it doesn’t? What if you’ve burrowed down into your cube, cranked out pounds of code/ marketing collateral/ analytical models/ CRM entries, and the company still burns through the remaining cash before IPO or acquisition? Uh – now what?

Here’s something I’ve heard myself saying quite a bit lately, particularly to folks that are with companies struggling to define direction, or struggling to execute on change initiatives: “Whatever other investments you make right now, you need to be thinking about how you ensure more options when you leave than when you came here.”

Whatever else you get out a day’s work – compensation, satisfaction with a job well done, participation in a like-minded community – you need to ensure that you are also increasing your professional options.

Here are a few simple ways to ensure that, should the time come, you have more alternatives when you hit the market place.

  • Get to know those you work with at your current company. Everyone goes somewhere, and just because you aren’t currently in marketing/ finance/ sales doesn’t mean that your next big break won’t come from one of the guys you impressed while you’ve been working here. Since the 21st truism will be “you won’t retire from here,” everyone will eventually move on, and we all remember the talented co-workers we’ve relied on in the past.
  • Participate in professional organizations in your area of expertise. If past co-workers can create current and future cross-functional opportunities, developing relationships with professional peers can increase your likelihood of getting an interview with their companies if and when the day should come. As important as what you know, who you know swings a big stick.
  • Get certified where it counts. While there are a thousand and one professional organizations offering certifications, there are a much smaller handful that are truly meaningful within the various realms of expertise. While certifications are less critical when you know the autonomous decision maker, they also make it much easier for all members of a hiring team to say “yes” to getting you engaged. Soliciting recommendations on certifications from your present managment team or mentor also sends a clear message that you have bigger plans for yourself than you are realizing today.

So while not revolutionary, well worth considering where you stand as we enter the new year. Just as businesses create a balance sheet of assets, now is a good time to inventory your assets and options as well. Make this the year that start turning down unsolicited offers.

Posted in Branding, Career, Measure, Networking, Recognition | 3 Comments

Yahoo! fires Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk

So, I just heard that Yahoo! Finance has decided to fire Penelope Trunk.

I mean, who would want to work with someone who thinks like this?

I just choose the lifestyle I want first, before I choose my work. Lifestyle first means that I turned down entry-level bullshit jobs in favor of playing professional beach volleyball. Not because I was dying to have all my friends think I was a lunatic, but because I couldn’t believe people expect you to do mindless work after earning a college degree.

And just to prove how the old-school, old-boys network has no place in the modern workplace, they offered her this advice:

Here’s what my boss’s boss’s boss said: “You should write for Lifestyles. That is more women oriented.”


Disappointing, but not unexpected. It just goes to further prove the theory that practically every corporation remains home to such deep-seeded, flawed, and ridiculous mores and cultural crapola, that it’s going to be a terribly long road before we see anything change, if ever.

If you’re interested in reading the whole story, please see Penelope’s post. Cube Rules has covered the news, as well.

As always, we continue to wish Penelope luck. And anxiously look forward to her next incarnation.

Posted in BrazenCareerist, Career, Firing, PenelopeTrunk | 6 Comments