When You Cringe At the Mere Idea of Asking for Help

It's tough to reach out when you need a helping hand.When I’m talking to my clients and our conversation inevitably turns to networking, I often hear from people that they don’t want to appear needy, that they don’t want to enter relationships with their hands out ready to receive.

It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s usually not well received.

All true.

At the same time, people want to support you, and if you give them the opportunity to do so, particularly when it’s a discrete task (coffee next Monday at 2 pm), it’s easy for them to show up for you. And, in a paradoxical twist, by specifying exactly what you need in way that’s inviting and easy for them without the overtone of entitlement or desperation, you actually help them.

Have you ever heard of “elevation”? It’s a term used to describe the high that we feel after we contribute meaningfully to someone else. We are literally hardwired to respond to others’ struggles.

Think about the last time you helped someone, really made a difference to them. It could have been as simple as opening the door for the person behind you who was carrying a heavy package. How did you feel right after you made that gesture? Pretty good, huh?

That’s how others feel when you allow them into your world, when you share authentically with them.

Let people help you.

You’ve done it for many other people, and you’ll do it again. Perhaps you’ll do it in a matter of moments, in fact, because you’re not helpless or inept. You are capable and whole and you help out (even when you’re in a job search). By receiving for just a moment, in a way that replenishes you and fuels you for the next steps in your job search, you aren’t rendered weak or without resources. You are simply accessing what’s right in front of you and connecting in ways that we all want to be connected.

Sick of the Cattle Call? How to Distinguish Yourself from the Herd

The process of searching for a job can be discouraging with so many people clamoring for just a few coveted positions.

I had a client recently find the perfect position for herself:

  • In her field
  • One step up from her current level
  • Compelling projects that matched her strengths
  • A nice bump in salary and better benefits.

Her excitement level skyrocketed when she read the job description, and she hurried to consult with me on her cover letter and resume customization for the position.

After she submitted for the position, the confirmation email that she received included instructions for checking on the status of her application. She quickly clicked the link to see the site that provided a chart with the status. The company had a great system that included a status that changed categories to signal where the search was in the process of selecting the final candidate, a system that my client found helpful. The categories included:

  • Accepting applications
  • Reviewing submissions
  • Invitations sent for phone screens
  • In-person interviews in progress
  • Search completed.

What my client wasn’t prepared for was the box in the status chart that listed the number of applicants for the position: 319.Cows

She was stunned, and her confidence plummeted. In the space of a heartbeat, she went from giddy excitement to devastation.

It’s a scenario that many of us face time and time again. We find the position that suits us so well, it’s almost as if we wrote the job description ourselves. Then, we get a big picture view of the process, and it’s discouraging (to say the least).

Fortunately, there are some tactics you can use to combat this situation:

Get in the door before the job is posted

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Personal Marketing Plan as the launch point for your job search. Once you develop a list of target companies, start gathering intel on them, and forging purposeful connections within an organization. You get so much out of this approach:

  • You can find out what will be emphasized in the decision-making criteria
  • You can tailor your resume and cover letter to speak directly to those issues
  • You can align your interview prep with what you already know about the company
  • You also may have a champion inside the process, either someone on the hiring team, or someone who might be able to influence the hiring team members.

Bypass the search process

It’s true what you hear about the hidden job market. When I worked in outplacement, we collected data from our clients as they were placed, and the figures I heard were that as many as 75% of jobs are never advertised. They’re filled by people making proactive inquiries using their target companies list from their Personal Marketing Plans.

Know your competition

If you can’t answer these 3 questions about the jobs you’re pursuing, you need to do more research:

  • Who else will compete for the jobs you’re seeking?
  • What qualifications do they have that you don’t?
  • How can you position yourself to be the clear winner when you’re compared to those others in the top tier of the candidate pool?

Cast your net widely

If you’re not generating 6-10 viable opportunities for yourself in your search, your scope isn’t broad enough. Most positions will disappear through no fault of yours:

  • The funding will be cut at the last minute after the finalist has been selected (and perhaps even extended an offer).
  • The position gets pulled to be rewritten and revamped.
  • An internal transfer will be forced on a department.

The possibilities are endless about what makes positions vaporize without warning. What’s important is that you make sure that you have other options so that you don’t slip into a sinkhole of despair when a position you’re dreaming about goes away. If you’ve got 6-10 other opportunities in the works, you may feel a sting from one falling away, but you’ll refocus quickly and turn your attention in another direction.

My client made it through the phone screen to the in-person interview, but she didn’t get the offer. She learned a massive amount from the process, and she’s applying that information as she doubles down on her search. She hasn’t yet given up on that particular company, and as she revs up for another go at them, she’s armed with much more information than she had at the beginning, particularly because she’s using the tips that I suggested, and she’s expanded her search and anchoring it with a Personal Marketing Plan.

Have you ever had a dream job slip through your fingers? How did you rebound and redirect your efforts?

Have You Sold Out on Yourself Careerwise? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself and Find Out the Answer

When people come to me for career coaching, they often cringe when they describe their current or most recent position.

I didn’t mean for it to go this way. Here are the twists and turns I took that brought me here.

It’s true that our careers often don’t go according to plan. Even if we wrote out a script early in life, intervening variables often get in the way.

But are you in so deep that you could declare that you’ve sold out on yourself? It’s unlikely, but consider these 5 questions to get a better sense of whether you’re due for a massive redirect.

How do you feel when you describe your job to someone else?

Do you feel proud, apologetic, defensive? Do you discount what you do?

Your answer may differ depending on who you’re talking to. Who matters to you? In your mind’s eye, line the most important people in your life and imagine telling them what you’re up to in life professionally. Even if it’s a parent who died some years ago, create a facsimile of that conversation in your mind using the idea that you still have access to them. What would the tone of your delivery be like? How would they tend to respond?

If you’re hemming and ummmmm’ing and having trouble making eye contact with the people who are most important to you, take the question a bit further. What do you wish you could say to them? Capture that data, and you’ve got some important insight.

What would your younger self, perhaps your on-the-brink-of-graduating-from-high-school self say about the job or path that you have now?

If you were to write a screenplay with a dialog between yourself at that tender high school age and yourself at the age you are now, how would it go?

Literally write it out. Are you celebrating? Are you defending?

The tone is more important than the specific words, but go ahead with the activity, even if it’s just an imagined conversation. What emerges?

What have you left behind in your career that still haunts you?

Gregg Levoy asks this question best in his book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life. 

He asks you to reflect back on pivotal moments in your life when you made a clear choice. Include both personal and professional decisions. For example, when you selected a major in college or when you decided to get married or divorced or split with a romantic partner.

What did you leave behind when you turned towards the choice that you made? Do you have any residue from those decisions, things that whisper (or shout) about regrets or losses?

What are your top 5 priorities in life right now? Does your job/professional path align with them?

List the most important things for you right now. Health, connection with key people, revenue generation, contribution to a social cause for example. What are they? Rank order them.

Now, look at how you’re spending your time. Categorize the time 5 uses of your time.

I recently completed this list, and I was stunned by the results. “Obligation to others” topped my list of how I actually spent my time. “Order and efficiency” made it up there, too. It wasn’t until I got to the fourth item on my list of how I allocate my time (“connection to others”) that I actually had overlap with my top 5 values.

What do you want your legacy to be?

It’s a classic, but it’s still got merit. Imagine that you’re on the porch at age 99 (or whatever age has resonance for you as being near the end), and you’re in your rocking chair reflecting back. What do you want to have accomplished? What do you want to have said you spent time on? What do you want your impact to have been?

You Already Have Enough Information to Make a Career Decision

Many people Parker Palmer quote: Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.come to me for career coaching because they’re lost, aimless, uncertain about their next moves.

They know what doesn’t work, but they’re not sure where to go next.

They often have people in their lives who know with utter certainty what they’re meant to do with their lives, and they see a huge chasm between where they are and where they think they should be.

What’s extraordinary about those sessions that I have with the clients who come in thinking that they’re completely rudderless is that it doesn’t take long for them to uncover what really matters to them and to match it up with where they’re going.

As the Parker Palmer quote so beautifully states,

Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.

Looking Backward Provides Vital Clues into Your Next Career Move

One question in particular provides strong insight into who you are:

Who has influenced your career, either positively or negatively?

Think about key people in your life, your parents or caregivers, your mentors or heroes, your teachers, your bosses. How did they touch you? What did you learn from them? Perhaps they inspired you, perhaps they taught you what NOT to do. Perhaps they saw something in you that you didn’t see in yourself and opened the door for it emerge. Regardless of the tone, telling your story will uncover a vital connection for you about who you are, where you’ve been, and also where you’re going.

Use the comments to write about one person who has influenced your career path.

My Own Story About An Influential Person

Here’s one of my stories in response to this question: Pamela was my boss when I was probably all of 25 (I’m almost double that age now, so it seems like a very long time ago).

She’s still my friend, and she still offers me guidance, but at the time, she was one of the first people to give me a vision of a strong professional woman.

She was in a senior role where we worked, and she had influence over what happened. She wasn’t afraid to speak up, but she knew how to use grace to convey her message, how to be appropriately feminine and powerful in a male-dominated organization, and how to advocate for her staff and give credit where credit was due.

I actually changed my name because of her. About 6 months after I got married, I was still using my family name. My older sister got married before me and she didn’t change her name, and since we’re a family of girls and a family of strong feminists, I thought I was supposed to keep my name rather than change it when I got married.

Well, here’s what happened: one day, I was in Pamela’s office when she answered her phone, and she picked up the phone and said smoothly and with authority her full name and the name of the organization where we worked. I thought, “I want to talk like that, with confidence.”

I practiced it (really, out loud), and I stumbled over it. But when I tried it using my husband’s name instead of my given name, it flowed out smoothly, and I had the same tone as Pamela.

I was a little embarrassed to change my name because it seemed like such a superficial reason to do so, just because I liked it, but it was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done for myself, and it was based on Pamela’s influence.

Please tell one of your stories below in the comments.