Connect to Your Own Wisdom

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I love it when a junior person asks me for career advice. It’s not because it makes me feel special or because I enjoy mentoring (though both are true). It’s because it helps remind me of fundamental lessons that I might otherwise forget.

As we gain more experience and experience more success, there is an nefarious trap. We run the risk of becoming arrogant and in the process forgetting the fundamental lessons we learned along the way. We have the scars so best to keep the hard-earned wisdom.

Recently, a connection asked me for advice on interviewing:

Hi Joe,

What values and traits do you find management and hiring professionals within your firm look for most in new associate candidates?

Regards,

J

It would have been a lot easier to just shoot back a glib, stock answer (drive, ethics, people skills, etc.). Instead, I stopped for a moment and really thought about it. I was surprised by my answer and thankful that the question had given me the opportunity to reflect on and reaffirm the fundamental lesson.

Great question. I've interviewed a ton over the years and failed to get the job many times so I'm sharing from my experience. In hindsight I look at this question very differently. One can't actually answer it in a helpful way because the lever you are looking for is something else entirely. Instead, I'd ask what skills do you need and what preparation should you do to strongly connect with each interviewer in front of you? And once you are connected, how can you lead them to believe (honestly) that hiring you will be the best outcome for them, their group, and the organization? They are the protagonist, not you. That's what gives you the best chance.

When interviewing, if you treat the interviewer as the protaganist and communicate how you will help them succeed, you greatly increase your chances. Think negotiation, not performance.

If you have any stories about when teaching someone else benefited you, I’d love to hear about it!

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.

The Statement that Put Me Away: How to Break Out of Your Career Prison

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I have a confession to make.

For a while, I was making one of my female coworkers uncomfortable. This was someone who was junior to me and looked up to me as a mentor. The first time I made my half-joking statement, I could tell she wasn't sure how to take it. I said it a second time and got the same awkward response. You might be wondering why I would continue on in this manner. Well, if the third time's a charm I tried to clarify things by explaining why I said what I did and why I was doing it.

Here's what I had been saying. Or something to that effect.

"Keep doing what you are doing. One of these days I may very well be working for you and that would be totally cool. I'm serious."

Cue uneasy shifting in seat, awkward silence and eventually a dubious "Yeah, right!"

And here's my explanation, after which I stopped saying this.

"I know you don't feel comfortable when I say this so I'll stop. Let me explain the reason why I've been saying it. We all have long careers and people move up and down on their own timetable. I think you have tremendous potential and I don't want you to hold yourself back by thinking that you have to wait your turn or that whoever is ahead of you today will always deserve to be ahead of you tomorrow. Forget that! You have to be your best, whatever that is and don't let any false or unnecessary sense of loyalty, hierarchy or timing stop you or slow you down."

Apologies for the false advertising. It wasn't exactly a #MeToo creating moment. However, as much as I was saying it for her benefit, I think it was a lesson for me as well. There are many times I catch myself thinking, I can never do that as well as X, Y, or Z. Or so and so's forgotten more about widgets than I will ever know. While both of these may very well be true, the problem has more to do with my attitude than the veracity of the statements. No disrespect to any of the great bosses and mentors I've had along the way, but if I live my life believing that I should or will always be one floor below them, then I'm clipping my own wings.

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Don't clip your own wings!

Give respect where respect is due, put in your time, and don't get cocky, but know and be okay with the possibility that one day you may soar above your previous teachers and leaders. And remember, anyone who tries to artificially slow down your ascent doesn't deserve to be on your team.

Keep moving forward and you will reach your summit.

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Have you ever caught yourself holding yourself back? Did a shift in your perspective on success ever lead to significant results? If you have a story, success or otherwise, about clipping your own wings, I'd love to hear about it.      
Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.

It's Not Who You Know...

As a friend and colleague, I struggle against various afflictions - Savior Complex, Narcissism and perhaps my gravest offense, Verbal Diarrhea. One day I was having lunch with a mentee who had just been promoted. We were discussing challenges related to this new role. This flowed into a conversation about the sometimes elusive nature of career opportunities. As I listened, I was doing my best to resist the urge to jump in with my two cents. I'm glad I did because I heard some brilliant advice and immediately declared my intent to appropriate it as my own. When it comes to opportunities, "It's not who you know, it's who knows YOU." In other words, behind closed doors when the decision-makers are deciding who to give a certain responsibility, do any of those people know you? And equally as important, what do they know about you?

To maximize the chances that the people making the decisions know you, don't be a chameleon, use more cowbell, and channel Shakespeare.

1. Be yourself. Don't try to be someone else. When most people try to put on an act, it is painfully obvious or at best, seems odd and is off-putting. For the few chameleons among us who are adept at playing a role, the trade-off is it is tiring. By being yourself, the parts of you that shine through naturally will resonate more with people.

2. Be memorable. Unfortunately, it's not enough be yourself if no ones remembers you. The first American spies in WWII trained by the British were taught to be average in appearance and behavior to better move about unnoticed. If you want to be memorable, it helps to stand out in appearance or behavior. Having a hook or marker helps trigger people's memory of you. It could be a article of clothing, a hairstyle, or a way of speaking. Imagine for a moment that Christoper Walken wasn't a famous actor and you had a brief conversation with him at holiday party. Chances are because of the way he speaks you would remember him easily in the future.

3. Be a bard. Tell interesting stories that illustrate who you are and your value. Context is everything. An accomplishment means nothing without the feeling behind it.

Remember, don't be a chameleon, use more cowbell, and channel Shakespeare. Follow these 3 EZPZ steps to make sure the right people know you. One day, it may open up some doors that would have otherwise been closed.


Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.