Monday, February 28, 2011

Tips On Becoming A Social Media Savvy Post Grad

Being a post grad these days is tough. We are all excited to graduate with big degrees. After all the excitement is over, we realize we have to find jobs and that we have no money. Many of us have to move back home and spend days after days searching for jobs, realizing most of them are "unpaid internships". My name is Lauren and I'm a recent post grad who graduated in December 2010 from Oakland University with a degree in Journalism. I currently have two part-time internships (luckily paid!). Let's begin with one of my favorite topics, the social media world and how it relates to the job hunt...

Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter are great for catching up with old friends and wasting time. But did you know they're also great for job hunting (as long as you keep things professional)? Here are some tips on how to use social media websites to your benefit when job searching:

1. I'm sure you've already got a Facebook and a Twitter account, but what about Linkedin? Linkedin is the king of professional social media. You can add your resume, network with people you already know or want to meet, ask for recommendations, connect your blog or website to your profile, join groups, search companies and employers, and even search for jobs. It is the number one tool you'll need if you want to use the Internet to your advantage when looking for a job.

2. Facebook and Twitter can help you too! Connect with the pages from your major at college. Most of them offer a page you can follow from not only your University, but your specific program. I connected with Oakland University Journalism and they often post jobs that are available in the area, tips on finding a job in journalism, and help with everything from the interview to your portfolio. Check Twitter too for a page, where they will post similar links to jobs or retweet when someone else posts an available job.

3. The number one rule if you're going to stay on social media while job hunting: keep it classy and professional! You may have your profiles private, but potential employers can often learn ways to see your pictures or even look at your profile. So just make sure your profile picture and recent photos aren't inappropriate in any way or will make you look immature. Keep in mind the things you're posting. Don't bash the job you have now (even if it is a terrible waitressing gig) because your potential employer might think you'll do the same with them. Don't post a ton of immature videos or photos either. You want to come across as mature and responsible as possible.

4. While this is not necessarily considered social media, start a blog if you haven't already. Remember the same rules as above: keep it professional and clean. No swearing or inappropriate language, photos, or videos. One of the best compliments I got from an interview was that I had a nice blog that made her want to talk to me. She said that some people don't even make it to the interview because their blog is messy, unprofessional, or riddled with errors. When I post anything on my blog, I always think "Would I want my mom, a potential employer, my neighbors, my friends, and strangers reading this?" If the answer is no to one of them, I have to change something. A blog is great if you want to get noticed in a different way, especially if you want to showcase your writing abilities. Even if you're not going into a writing field, a blog is still a great way to show that you have opinions and that you're passionate about something. A great blog is always a plus.

Friday, February 25, 2011

2 Stories That Limit You In Your Career

At the blog On Careers, from U.S. News & World Report, Curt Rosengren writes about the importance of our thoughts and mindset when it comes to careers and the job search.

He identifies two limiting stories we often tell ourselves: "I Can't" and "That's Not Realistic." It sounds simple but changing our response when we notice ourselves thinking in this way can have powerful results.

Rosengren notes, "Limiting stories have one primary goal in mind, funneling you down the path to saying no. And saying no automatically turns possibilities into impossibilities."

Read more from Rosengren at his blog The M.A.P. Maker.

Dig Deeper to Evaluate a Job Offer

Your decision regarding a job offer is very important and should be carefully evaluated. Lots of information exists about the basics of evaluating a job offer, some of which can be found in past Daily Leap entries. But the basics don’t always uncover aspects of the job offer that are important but more difficult to unearth. These require more digging on your part—researching available resources, directing specific questions to appropriate company representatives, receiving permission to talk to a company employee(s), or using your network to locate a current or past employee you can speak with.

Company Stability

Typically, you acquire some company facts during an interview, but afterward you’ll need to fill in any missing pieces. Are you comfortable with the company’s current financial condition and projected growth? Is the company a candidate for a potential merger or acquisition? Who are the company’s key customers, and how dependent is the company on those customers?

Work Environment

Equally important is assessing the company culture, fit, and general work environment. Do you understand the company’s values, and do they align with yours? For example, does it matter to you whether the company adheres to environmentally friendly practices or gets involves in charitable causes? Examine the organizational structure. Will excessive red tape or corporate politics hamper progress? Have you met enough employees to get a sense for how you’d fit in? Have you considered the potential effects of the work environment? Do you care if it’s quiet or noisy…dim or well lit?

Compensation and Expenses

Understandably, most people base job decisions primarily on salary and benefits. But it’s important to dig deeper. For example, how many hours are you expected to work for your salary? If your normal work week will average 55 hours, is the compensation adequate? Is there a performance/merit review process, and if so, how often and what is the potential for increases? Does the company award bonuses or stock options? Will you incur expenses as a result of taking the job, for example, gas, parking, wardrobe, and childcare?

While not exhaustive, this list gets you started in your mission to uncover the not-so-obvious aspects of a job offer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Video Interviewing: Tips to Prepare for this New Interview Trend

With the growing popularity of telecommuting and tools such as Skype and video teleconferencing at their fingertips, some employers are forgoing the traditional in-person interview – at least for the first initial interview. This trend is a result of busy schedules, reduced travel budgets, and increased convenience for both parties. However, if done incorrectly, video interviewing can create a negative first impression. Follow these tips for success.

Make Eye Contact
When you are speaking with someone via video teleconferencing it can be difficult to know where to look. Not making eye contact with your interviewer will cause disastrous results for your interview. The employer will think you lack confidence, are untruthful, or are disinterested. When answering questions, look at the camera – not the computer screen.

Make a Good Impression
First impressions are usually formed in the first 7 seconds and are often based on visual cues. In a video interview, it is still important to dress professionally, pay attention to grooming, and watch your posture. However, one other factor you may forget is the environment around you. A messy room, piles of laundry or mail, empty pizza boxes, and a table full of empty beer bottles are not good backdrops for your interview. You should be alone in the room with no kids, pets, or distractions. Turn off your phone, television, and radio.

Practice, Practice, Practice
You don’t want your video interview to be the first time you have ever video teleconferenced. Practice on Skype with your friends. Get used to looking into the camera instead of the screen and familiarize yourself with the concept of having a conversation with your computer screen. Get comfortable with the technology so you don’t add the stress of setting up the conference to your pre-interview jitters. If you appear comfortable and confident in the video interview, this will convey the impression that you are flexible and adaptable.

Whether your interview is in person or on the phone, do your research, think about what you are going to say, and practice your interview questions in advance.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Personal Branding: Interview with Dan Schawbel

The New England Job Show interviewed personal branding expert Dan Schawbel. Among other things, he touched on how clarifying your personal brand can aid in the job search:

Learn more about Dan Schwabel at his Personal Branding Blog.

You’ve Got the Power: Three Tips for Perfecting Power Words

Just like your favorite Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer book, your resume tells a story. What kind of story is it telling? Are you the confident hero, using your knowledge, skills, abilities, and fortitude to identify problems, create solutions, take action, and save the day? Or are you a secondary character who stands in fright or awe as the hero does his or her thing? Your professional character/persona is projected in your résumé and how you shape it could be the difference between standing out and striking out. Strategically using power words-action verbs used to place emphasis on professional duties and accomplishments-can ensure you create a leading character résumé.

Impact-minded power words: Lists of power words can easily be found online (I found some good ones here and here). But armed with a list of power words does not a good resume make. Be mindful of the words that you are using to create a more vivid picture of your work. Here is an example from someone who worked as a waiter:

  • Taught new employees how to use the POS system to ensure accuracy and rapid transaction completion

  • Coached new employees in the use of restaurant POS system to ensure accuracy and rapid transaction completion

See the difference? The word “coach” creates in the mind a different type of action than “taught.” By thinking creatively and choosing the appropriate power word you honor your experience and the employer “sees” this through how you describe it.

Notice the story you’re telling: Now that you have a better handle on power words to use, let’s turn a mindful eye on the story that they are telling. Which phrase below sounds more appealing to you as an employer who is hiring an information technology specialist for a leading hospital?

  • Assisted multi-departmental team development on an iPad app to enhance workflow and improve care to patients

  • Led multi-departmental team development on an iPad app to enhance workflow and improve care to patients

Again, the difference one word can make. Now, don’t be disingenuous: if you didn’t lead the project, don’t say that you did. But if you start to notice that your power words do not show leadership, delve deeper into your experience or use it as a catalyst to start creating experiences where you are in a leadership role. It is never too late to intentionally shape your career.

Be wary of repeats: Personally, I hate using the same power word in a resume more than once. To me it shows a lack of creativity in one’s self marketing. So try to keep this down to a minimum: repeating a word once is acceptable, but do not make it a habit.

Power words, when used appropriately, create stand-out impact. When writing the novel of your career, use the right power words to ensure your name is blazoned across the cover.

5 Tips for Asking Good Questions in the Interview

There will come a time in the interview that the interviewer will offer you the opportunity to ask questions. Not asking questions makes you look unprepared and disinterested. Next time you are given the opportunity, make sure you are ready with these tips.

Do your research.
Always prepare in advance. Thoroughly research the company – don’t just read their website. What are their future plans, their problems, and their needs? Show you have done your homework and demonstrate your dedication to their company with questions such as “I see that you are expanding your operation and outsourcing your customer support into India. At ABC Communications when we outsourced to India we had to overcome several roadblocks. What are some of the issues you have faced so far?” This question shows you have not only done your research, but that you are experienced at handling the same type of situation they are facing.

Make it all about them.
Never ask questions about benefits, salary, work hours, or anything else that relates to what the company is going to do for you. Your focus in the interview is to highlight the benefits you can bring to the employer.

Ask open-ended questions.
One of the purposes for asking questions at the end of the interview is to create a conversation, form a connection, and bond with the interviewer to get to “yes.” Avoid questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. A closed question would be “Is technology important to your company?” Instead, ask “How does technology factor into your company’s current and future success?”

Write your questions down and take them to the interview.
You have a lot to remember in an interview. If you write your questions down, there is one less thing you have to worry about remembering. Also, there may come a time that all your questions are answered in the course of the interview. In that rare case, you may actually want to show the questions you wrote down to the interviewer and say something such as “Thank you so much for such a thorough and detailed interview, you answered all the questions I had prepared.”

Close strong.
Remember the purpose of the interview is to get a “yes.” Once in a while you have to overcome objections to succeed. However, you can’t overcome an unknown objection. Therefore, one of the last questions you should always ask is “Do you see any skills or qualifications that I may be lacking to succeed in this position with your company?” Often, they may bring up an issue that you can overcome on the spot, just by providing additional details.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Maintain a Strong Work Ethic

A strong work ethic is often described as one’s ability to work hard, meet professional responsibilities in an efficient manner, and deliver quality work. Work ethic is often linked to personal character values considered intrinsic, like integrity and honesty. Other strong work ethic traits, such as using resources and time wisely, typically come with experience and practice.

A good work ethic usually leads to a more successful career path. The following elaborates on common indicators of a strong work ethic.

Keep Professional Work Habits

Maintain strong professional work habits that demonstrate respect for you and those you work with. Examples of these include being on time to work and meetings, being prepared, dressing professionally, responding promptly to colleague and client requests, and maintaining an organized work space.

Be Honest, Dependable, and Trustworthy

In all your work dealings, be honest and accountable for your words and actions. You’ll earn a reputation for dependability when others experience several positive work interactions with you that show you can meet your work responsibilities. Trustworthiness also comes over time after others see that you regularly follow through on your commitments.

Deliver High-Quality Work

As important as it is to work hard, it is equally important to deliver consistent, high-quality work. If you regularly work diligently but do not meet quality expectations, it can lead to problems for you and your employer. Poor quality work may need to be redone, costing the company time, money, and in some cases, the reputation of the business.

On a closing note, taking pride in your work, maintaining an overall positive attitude toward work, and doing something you enjoy can also go a long way in fostering a strong work ethic.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

5 Steps for S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting to Achieve Success

There are many reasons to set goals: they provide a target, they concentrate and focus efforts, they provide motivation and inspire persistence, and they establish a road map to get from where you are to where you want to be. It has been proven that a person with an important enough why can bear most any what or how. Writing down your goals in the S.M.A.R.T. style will help you focus and become more productive. S.M.A.R.T. goals are:

Generic goals are much less effective than specific goals. Specific goals ensure efforts are focused and clarified. Specific goals answer who is involved, what will be accomplished, when will the goal be accomplished, why is the goal important, and how will it be achieved?

A generic goal is “I need a new job that pays more money.” However, a specific goal is “Within the next three months, I want to obtain employment in the education field utilizing my degree and I want to earn at least $40,000 per year.”

If your goal has no measurement, how will you recognize success? Measurable goals answer how much, how many, and how often? Build steps into written goals to keep yourself on track and motivated with small successes. Measurable, tangible achievements will inspire you to keep going toward your ultimate goal.

To be attainable, a goal must be realistic. If you want to lose thirty pounds by next week or become a doctor in 6 weeks, yet you have not started medical school, you are setting yourself up for failure with unrealistic expectations. You must believe you can achieve a goal to become willing to do the work it will take. Attainable goals do not mean easy goals; they just have to be doable with realistic daily efforts.

A goal should stretch your abilities. Often, a high goal seems easier to achieve because the level of motivation is much greater than a goal that does not challenge you. If a goal motivates you and is important to you, you will find ways to develop the skills, attitude, and abilities to make it happen.

Creating a deadline causes a sense of urgency and establishes commitment in your mind. “Someday” is not a time frame, it is simply an excuse for procrastination. Without a timeframe there is no motivation to start taking action.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Should you Hire a Professional Resume Writer? The Pros and Cons

Many people would rather prepare their own taxes than write their own resume. It is often a daunting task that we procrastinate. However, everyone needs a well-written resume at all times – even if you are happily employed.

So, should you write the resume yourself or should you hire a professional? You can do it yourself, but can you do it well? To be fair, I must tell you that I am a professional resume writer. However, I want to offer you both the positive and negative aspects of hiring someone to write your resume for you.

Having your resume professionally written can save you tremendous amounts of time.

You must be willing to participate in the process by providing the writer with personal information and approving the final product. Otherwise, you may end up with a resume that is full of information and skills that you can’t support in an interview or that is written in language or terms that you would never use. Don’t let someone write your resume FOR you, they should write it WITH you.

A well-trained professional has the ability to assist you in identifying your marketable skills and will create a sales-focused document that attracts employers’ attention.

Beware of the “resume factories” that don’t take the time to get to know you personally. Whether the information is gathered via worksheet or personal interview, the important thing is that you define and market how you can benefit an organization. A well-written resume should be a personalized representation of what makes YOU the right person for the job.

Having your resume written for you is one less thing for you to worry about in the hectic job search process. A certified professional resume writer is required to stay on top of the latest job search trends and methods and will provide you with updated documents that are suitable for the current job market.

Most anyone can hang a shingle and call themselves a resume writer. There are several reputable associations of professionals such as the National Resume Writers Association at, Career Directors International at, and the Professional Association of Resume Writers at Before hiring a professional, verify their qualifications, experience, and reputation by doing your due diligence.

Four Reasons Why You Should Immediately Join a Professional Organization

Picture in your mind two side-by-side resumes of recent college graduates. Each possesses the same type of degree from comparable universities. They have similar internship experiences and both lack “real-world working experience.” The only difference between the two is that the one on the right is a member of a professional organization, a (typically) not-for-profit group formed around a particular profession that furthers the interests and development of its members and of the profession itself. Professional organizations-also called professional associations, professional bodies, professional societies, or trade groups-exist for nearly any profession you can think of, from clowns to bookbinders. The difference between involvement in a professional organization and none could be the difference between obtaining a position quickly after graduation and floundering for months afterward. Read on to learn why.

On the cheap: Joining a professional organization as a student is typically cheaper-much cheaper-than to join as a professional already working in the field. For example, a student membership in the Society of Human Resource Professionals is a mere $35.00 compared with $180.00 for a full-time professional. That’s a savings of over 80%! The leadership of professional organizations understands that college students have limited-if any-income and want to substantially decrease the barriers to joining. Take advantage of this while you are still able.

Get connected: From the moment you hit the “submit” button to conclude your organization membership you will have instant access to a network of professionals in your field. Make the most of this by contacting some nearby members and scheduling an informational interview to learn from them and grow your personal network.

Become involved: As you have probably surmised by now, joining a professional organization is good, but becoming involved is better. How do you become involved? Email someone in a leadership position in the association and ask him or her how you can help. It doesn’t matter who; you are new to the organization and that person will help you navigate the organizational hierarchy. There are numerous ways for you to get involved in a professional organization, from sitting on committees to volunteering at events like conferences or symposiums. Since volunteers run most professional organizations, your initiative and involvement will be welcomed and rewarded.

Educate thyself: Finally, professional organizations provide ongoing education and training opportunities to help its members stay current in the field. Utilize these resources to get the most out of your membership and to make yourself a more well-informed professional.

Professional organizations are a small investment for enormous professional rewards, provided that you use them to grow your network, get involved, and continue your education. Stop hesitating and join one today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Putting Office Politics to Work

For most, the concept of office politics immediately evokes a negative connotation. However, when managed properly, office politics can actually play a positive role in your career. Office politics refers to tactics individuals use to gain advantages in the workplace, mainly for personal advancement. Two factors contribute: the natural state of competition in the workplace and the hierarchical power structure of most companies.
The following tips can help you navigate the tricky landscape of most office politics.

· Be observant. Observe the company culture and the relationship dynamics between individuals and groups. Pay close attention to those who fit in and those who are well respected and/or have influence in the company. Consider the reasons why, then work at trying to establish relationships with these people.

· Focus on business objectives. Office politics should never supersede business objectives. Stay focused and always do what is in the best interest of the organization. If personal agendas start creeping in, weigh the pros and cons based on the business objectives and always use good business sense.

· Work collaboratively. No matter what your job is, you will most likely need to work collaboratively with others. Collaborating effectively can lead to positive working relationships and alliances that will serve you well when office politics enter the picture. Remember the theory of reciprocity: When you help others, they are more likely to help you.

· Expand your influence. It’s natural that you will form relationships more readily with those whom you work with on a regular basis. Don’t stop there. Raise your visibility and expand your influence by establishing relationships across the organization.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Would you Describe a Banana? Keys for Answering Brainteaser Interview Questions.

You have done your research, defined your skills, and prepared for every possible interview question. Tell me about yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Then, out of the blue the interviewer throws you a curve ball.

Why are manhole covers round? How would you describe a banana? Estimate the volume of water on Earth. These types of questions may seem pointless. However, according to some of the biggest tech industry companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo are using questions like these as part of their interview process, and other companies may join them.

Instead of studying questions that may be asked, just have a strategy for answering. First, understand why companies ask these questions. These questions serve as a test of how well you can problem solve, react under pressure and think on your feet. If you encounter a brainteaser, or an off-the-wall question, follow these guidelines:

Don’t Panic. Remember, employers are testing how you react to pressure. The worst thing you could do is panic or overreact. The worst answer to a brainteaser question is “I don’t know.” This shows a lack of creativity and problem solving ability.

Keep your Sense of Humor. Enjoy the fun spirit that is behind these questions. They are intentionally outrageous, and the interviewer that asks them does not expect a precise answer. Here is a potential question and answer scenario. “How many quarters would it take to stack as high as the Empire State Building?” Answer, “I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. However, using the internet, I will look up the thickness of a quarter and the height of the Empire State Building. With access to the internet and a calculator, I can have an answer to you in just a few minutes.”

Don’t Over Think Things. These questions test your ability to problem solve using logic. Remember, the interviewer probably doesn’t even know, or expect you to know, the answer to the question. In the earlier example, it isn’t about actually researching and finding the answer, it is about using problem resolution skills – and thinking fast on your feet – to demonstrate how you would provide the information if you had to.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Avoid These Common Errors on Your Resume

No matter your qualifications, a resume full of errors is likely to land you in the “no” pile. Your resume must speak for you when you are unavailable to speak for yourself. If the resume is sloppy, lacks attention to detail, and is full of errors, it appears this is how you will perform on the job.

Proofreading your resume before you send it to a potential employer is critical to success. For some employers, if they find just one error they will not even consider interviewing the candidate. Don’t rely on the spell check function; it won’t catch most of these common errors.

Spelling and Word Use Errors
I once sent a cover letter addressed “Dear Hiring Manger.” Since then, I have learned that there is an AutoCorrect function in Microsoft Word that allows you to automatically fix your common errors. Following are some of the most common misspelled words you might use on a resume: Judgment, Commitment, Consensus, Indispensable, Liaison, License, Occurrence, Occasion, Perseverance, Privilege, Separate, Proceed, Acceptable, A While (always two words), Accommodate, Acquire, Acquit, A Lot (always two words), Conscientious, Experience, Guarantee, Immediate, Noticeable, Recommend, and Weird.

Word Use Errors
Most errors on a resume are misuse errors versus misspellings. The spell check functions do not catch these errors. They are spelled correctly; they are just not used properly. Here are some of the most common offenders:

Its versus It’s – This is one of the most common errors. That tiny little apostrophe can make a big difference. To keep it simple, it’s is a contraction of the words “it is” or “it has,” while its is possessive. It’s going to rain. Its tires were flat.

Your versus You’re – You’re is a contraction of “you” and “are,” while your is possessive. You’re my best friend. Your hands are cold.

Their versus There and They’re- Once again, they’re is a contraction of the words “they” and “are,” while their is possessive, and there refers to distance. They’re going to their house over there.

Ensure versus Insure – When you insure something, you are referring to insurance. When you ensure something, you make sure of it. I ensured my family was insured.

Lead versus Led – When referring to leading in the past tense you use led. When talking about a metal, or using the present tense of leading, you use lead. However, they are pronounced different based on the meaning. I led a project team. I want to lead this team. He has lead poisoning.

Internship Intervention: Five Strategies to Get the Most out of Your Internship

If you are considering an internship, about to begin an internship, or are in an internship, consider these five tips to make the most of your internship experience. Many believe that they know what an internship is, but all too often internships are not utilized to their fullest potential. So it’s time for an intervention: a sit around the circle, heart-to-heart exchange to keep you from making terrible mistakes that will negatively impact your professional future. Let the healing begin.

Be appreciative: Many interns do not appreciate the time and expense that goes into their position. According to the US Department of Labor, an internship is essentially for the benefit of intern, not the employer, and internships are to be designed with the expectation that work operations are more than likely to be hindered. If you owned your own business, would you create a position exclusively to lose money and make things slower? I, personally, believe in the altruistic nature of people, so it’s entirely likely that you would. However, I hope this makes you more appreciative of the time and energy that employers put into their internship programs.

Be a sponge: From the minute your internship begins, start absorbing everything you can about your place of work. What is its mission and primary purpose for existing? What do you know about its industry and its place in that industry? Who are its competitors and what does it do to differentiate itself from them? How does the work culture support the values of the organization? What does your department or area do to contribute to the bottom-line? Since an internship is designed to be an educational experience for you, you’ll get more out of it if you treat it like an anthropological study, making keen observations and studying the operations, dynamics, and relationships therein.

Take initiative: After you have begun your internship and are feeling comfortable in your role, ask you supervisor if there is anything else you can do to help, whether it be some kind of outside project, assignment, or something else entirely. The fact that you are asking indicates that you are interested in doing more than what is expected of you and that you are open to new experiences and challenges. Even if there is nothing available at the time, a question like this and being open to future opportunities will make a huge positive impression. Another way to show your initiative is to schedule a performance evaluation yourself. Ask your supervisor for an appointment to discuss your performance to date, going over your position expectations and how well you have fulfilled them. Think this will leave a strong, positive impression on how your supervisor views your professionalism and dedication to your position? I would!

Mine for feedback: But don't just obtain information from your supervisor: ask those that you report to and work with for genuine feedback on your work. Make your questions specific areas that are important to the company, which could include attention to detail, teamwork, timeliness, critical thinking, or others.

Be résumé mindful: Finally, keep track of everything that you are doing, from the day-to-day tasks to the skills you are picking up, for it is all fodder for your résumé.

Your internship can be a box that you check off on a list of undergraduate “to dos” or it can be a transformational opportunity that accelerates your career. It’s all in the approach and the choices that you make.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review: The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change

I was introduced to The Shark and the Goldfish by my boss. He tacked a post-it to its cover that said “I think this will change your perspective on things” and left it on my desk.

My first impression wasn’t positive. The story is illustrated, so it reminded me of a children’s book. The opening statement--Are you a shark or a goldfish?--made me wonder what the heck my boss was trying to tell me. Was he suggesting that I needed to be more of a man? I didn’t get it. I skimmed the book’s contents within five minutes, decided the story was too hokey for my tastes, and dismissed it as unimportant.

Sometime later, a coworker recognized the book in my cubicle and asked me about it. After explaining why I didn’t really read it, my coworker agreed that although the story was corny, the message is what really mattered. He suggested I try reading it again, saying “Make sure you read the introduction this time.”

After reading The Shark and the Goldfish front to back, I’m happy to report that I get it now. The author Jon Gordon starts off with a confession saying that of course a goldfish, a freshwater fish, cannot survive in the ocean. Gordon goes on to explain that his “Shark or Goldfish?” concept started out as a story he liked using in motivational speeches. The story is intentionally short so he can communicate his point quickly. Consequently, The Shark and the Goldfish is more of a quick-and-dirty tool than a magnum opus:

A goldfish is alone is his bowl, perfectly content with being fed each day. During a trip to the beach he is accidentally swept away into the ocean, where he starts to go hungry. He fears that he is done for, until he meets a friendly shark who challenges his thinking.

The message shines through in this bit of dialogue between the shark and his newfound friend: “You know what your problem is?” “I’m starving and no one will feed me.” “No, you are waiting to be fed.”

The focus of the story revolves around one important truth: You can’t control the events in your life. You can, however, choose how you respond to them.

This truism is the motivation that the shark uses to teach the goldfish how to “be a shark.” In order to be a successful shark, the goldfish will need to work hard for his food. Furthermore, it’s not a “once in a while” type of work -- it’s a mindset that reinforces the need to work hard every day.

It is a lesson that translates well into dealing with adversity. If you’re unemployed, you can’t wait for jobs to come knocking at your door – you must actively search for jobs and beat out the competition to a job offer. If you’re working in a dead-end job, you can’t wait for something better to land in your lap – you must actively seek out new opportunities. If you’re anxious to get a raise or a promotion, you can’t wait for someone to notice you – you must take on extra projects, leverage your contacts, and do other proactive tasks that will help get you get noticed.

Though the main focus of The Shark and the Goldfish is about turning misfortune into fortune by seeing opportunity in the midst of adversity, there are other lessons to be learned from the story. The book highlights these different lessons that the goldfish learns through illustration: Whenever the goldfish learns something, he’ll inscribe a reminder into different rocks or pieces of coral throughout the ocean. The reminder that resonated most with me is the importance of faith over fear.

Faith and fear are similar because both are beliefs of a future that hasn’t happened yet. Fear is the belief in a negative future, while faith is a belief in a positive one. Fear is most common, because of the multiple forms it comes in. There is fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of starving, fear of change, and even fear of fear. Because fear can be so paralyzing, it’s no wonder that so many people will settle for their small goldfish-bowl world. We are content, so long as we’re being fed.

As a result, we forget about our options for a different future. We lose sight of our own potential because our faith in a positive future is drowned out by all of the fears we carry.

In The Shark and the Goldfish, the goldfish successfully overcomes his fears. In the face of adversity, he chooses to be proactive. Despite negativity from naysayers, he proves himself to be a shark capable of finding more food than he’d ever need. He decides to create a school for fish that once thought like himself, and teaches what it takes to be a shark like him.

At about 80 pages, many of which have less than 15 words on them due to illustrations, The Shark and the Goldfish can be read in under an hour. Gordon admits that he’s received criticism regarding the length and simplicity of the book, and I almost dismissed its significance because of just how small it is.

In spite of my poor first impression, I am grateful that The Shark and the Goldfish was recommended to me a second time, because I see now what my boss was getting at. When it comes to success, attitude is everything. With a proactive approach to life, you can handle everything that’s thrown at you, even if it’s as terrifying as the vastness of the ocean to a tiny goldfish. You realize that against all odds, you are still in control over yourself. As a result, you are in control of your life.

As Gordon puts it, the choice is yours. What do you want to be? A shark or a goldfish?

Embracing Change in Your Professional Life

The professional world is always changing. This is particularly true during a recession, with corporate downsizing, reorganizations, mergers, and acquisitions—all of which impact workers. Common reactions to change can include anxiety, shock, denial, confusion, resistance, and anger. However, if you view change as an opportunity and you take responsibility for your career, you can grow both professionally and personally.

Accept and Expect Change

When you accept that change is inevitable, you won’t be surprised or overwhelmed when it happens. Stay informed about what is happening in your organization and look for signs of change. Be as prepared and as open as possible to the opportunities that accompany organizational change.

Keep Current

Keeping your skills sharp and your knowledge current is always a good idea. This is especially true if a change at work requires you to take on more responsibility, assume a different role, or even begin a new job search. Be sure to regularly update your resume and any online professional profiles with your most current skills and experience.

Stay Focused and Productive

When change is happening all around you, it is easy to become distracted; however, your best response is to stay focused and keep up with the tasks at hand. Not only does this keep your mind from wandering and minimize worry, it could also cause management to take note of and appreciate your efforts.

Take on New Challenges

Frequently, with change comes opportunity to learn or try something new, like taking on a new project or working with new co-workers. Typically during times of change—especially reorganizations or layoffs—extra works becomes plentiful. Help facilitate the change by extending assistance to your manager, wherever possible.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Military Transition Salary Negotiation Tips

In the military, pay rates are consistent among all members of your branch of the military who are at your rank. Salary and benefits are determined by Congress and there is no negotiating.

In the civilian workforce, it is a whole new world of opportunity. Keep in mind your negotiation and subsequent salary will set the tone for the rest of your civilian career. Therefore, you must be prepared. Following are some salary negotiation tips that apply to your military transition.

Do your research.
The first step to success is research. When you are asked the salary question, you not only want to have an answer, but you should have proof in-hand. The rule of thumb in salary negotiation is the first person who names a number loses. When you are asked to name the salary you are seeking, it is best to offer a range and cite a source. Use websites such as and to prepare for salary negotiations.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
You should always negotiate salary. If you don’t, there is a good chance you are leaving money on the table. Make it a rule to never accept the first number an employer offers. You never know what you can get unless you ask – they are not going to spontaneously offer to pay you more. Define the benefits you bring the employer and demonstrate your value throughout the interview.

Don’t sell yourself short.
Transitioning out of the military can be a very daunting challenge. I meet former service members who take the first job they are offered, without attempting to negotiate salary. This is usually done out of fear or desperation. Be proud of your military experience, determine what you have to offer an employer, and market these benefits accordingly.

Don’t broadcast retirement.
If you are retiring from the military, consider keeping this fact quiet. Employers may offer a retiree less in salary because they know you receive a military pension. My goal for all military members is that you be able to bank your retirement funds – that you earned serving our country – and replace or exceed your military salary.

Take other factors into consideration.
Your annual salary is just one part of your compensation package. If you and your potential employer are not able to agree on a salary, there are other options to consider. If you are retiring, you don’t need your new employer to pay for health care benefits. Negotiate additional compensation based on these savings. Other considerations are 90-day salary reviews, car allowances, or signing bonuses. No matter what you agree to with your new employer, always get everything in writing.