Hold yourself accountable to someone else.

4 11 2009

I’ve never been a runner.  I used to try to run laps at the track near my house.  As beautiful as the stadium and the weather was, I was only ever somewhat motivated to make it happen.  Eventually, I’d hang my shoes up by their laces and call it a good run, saying “Running is not my thing.”

My friends recently started a running competition:  boys vs. girls, losers buy a really super nice dinner.  We have a couple real runners in the group, me having the least endurance.  My friend, Samantha (guest post writer for the Power of Visualization), set up a spreadsheet and we all log our distances: day-by-day.  Where I never thought I could be a runner, in a little over a week, I’ve run 13.8 miles total!  I’m on to my third day straight of running at least 3 miles a day and I’m barely stopping (only to check myself for 10 paces half way through).

The funny thing is, I notice that when I run with someone who’s better than me, I push myself harder to keep up (and at least not let the person disappear over the horizon).  This stamina seems to come out of nowhere!  When I run by myself, I tend to slow down and walk more.

What is changing?
Well, a few things… 1) I learn by imitation.  Monkey see, monkey do.  I am learning to push myself and my stamina from those that are better at it than I am; 2) I can’t stand to be dead weight on my team.  Yes, I’m part of a team, and, if I let my team down, we lose and have to treat these guys to dinner.  NO WAY!  3) I find great satisfaction in watching the number of miles aggregate at the top of the spreadsheet showing how much I’ve run.  I’m accountable to my team and if I don’t pitch in, we could lose.

Notice the fun competitive set up: 4 hotties v. 3 boy toys!!  (For the record, Aaron runs 3-6 miles daily, so he counts for two people.  I run 0 miles regularly, so I was considered dead weight!!)

We're gonna kick your asses!

(note:  The guys are all runners, but they are busy right now and haven’t had time to run.  Let’s see what the numbers look like in a month or two.)

4) Although it’s with friends, this really is a running support group of sorts.  One day I might actually call myself a runner.  I’ll check in with you all in a few weeks to see if I’ve stuck to my routine.  I’m asking you to hold me accountable.

Why is this important to you?
In your quest to make yourself a better, more hire-able candidate, you need to be able to achieve the goals you set out for yourself.  Show them that you are someone who commits to a goal and makes it happen.  Do this every day of your life in small ways.  In grand ways.  Then, reach out to your closest friends, your circle of trust, and build support around your cause.  Pick one person to hold you accountable to it and to check in with you weekly to make sure you’re taking strides towards your goal.

If this helps you and you end up making your goals, you’ll have an array of new achievements to talk about in an interview or show on your resume.  Make the thing that you thought impossible possible–it’s a story you can be proud to tell.

For that goal that you’ve always wanted to achieve, but never could.  See what happens when you do it with a team, with a coach, or someone else that can hold you accountable.  You don’t want to be dead weight/last place do you?


Your Elevator Pitch

17 08 2009

Alisa B. from Boise, Idaho posted me a message on LinkedIn and I thought that it was totally relevant for everyone else, too!  So here goes…

Stephanie-I loved your posting but here is my dilemna: I have been doing a lot of research online about personal branding and I have seen so many blog postings and web articles on the subject but I have yet to have an author give me examples of what are good branding statements or 30-second elevator pitch statements. Isn’t that how much time you have to engage your audience? What would you consider to be a good couple examples of strong branding statements? Thanks so much for your insight!

To be honest, I don’t believe the idea that you have 30-seconds to sell yourself in an interview.   I really don’t think it’s true.  Let’s break it down… what could people possibly learn about you in 30-seconds?

  1. Your level confidence and your presence (or lack thereof).
  2. Your communication skills and the ability to articulate your ideas.
  3. Your level of engagement (eye contact, active listening, ability to understand what they say).
  4. Perhaps some astounding accomplishments… but really, the majority of us are quite average–I know I am!
  5. Perhaps an interest/passion or 2.
  6. Perhaps you said something that piqued their curiosity.  But that probably will vary by person.

If you can’t yet deliver on 1-4, please practice.  For those of you who are confident, good communicators, engaged, and have some great accomplishments to boast about, let’s move on.

Nowadays, people have the opportunity to provide an abundance of information about their strengths beyond 30-seconds of face time at a career fair.  I would encourage people to get creative, and get scalable.   Build a website about yourself, your interests, your specialties, your accomplishments.   Tweet.  Leverage social media to show them your influence and scope of interests.  People are searching.  Let them find you.  You’re awesome, just unemployed!

So how long do you really have to sell them on you?  Well, you have 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, however long they’ve scheduled you for your interview!  But you should always try your best to start and end strong.  Albeit, most interviewers know in the first 10 minutes (first few questions) if you’re a fit for the role or the company.   That being said–you won’t be able to gauge how well or poorly you’re doing in the interview, so don’t focus on that–focus on delivering YOU and solving their problems.

Therefore, positive impressions are important, so how can you make sure this impression is a good one?

You understand their business and gave personal attention to understanding how they differ from their competitors.
You have done as much research as possible to understand the role and to understand the company and what it does.  You’ve looked for similar people on LinkedIn.com.  You’ve read the latest news articles on the role/business/industry.  You are interested.  You really are.   You also either have direct experience, or you have translatable experience and you can articulate how this might be helpful.

Understand their company mission statement and philosophies.
Not every company has this, but many of them will.  In your sales pitch, or interview–whatever,
provide solid examples that tie you in with their core philosophies & mission.  Let’s use McKinsey & Company, a top consulting firm, as an example.  Their “What We Believe” page (as of 8/17/09) says that they aim to…
1)  Put the client’s interest ahead of our own. (How do you do this in your daily life?  at work?  at school? Articulate it.)
2)  Behave as professionals. (Good grief, see my guest post on Recession Mama as an example of an extreme no-no.)
3)  Keep our client information confidential. (You can bet they’re going to ask you about a time when you were asked to keep or breach a secret.)
4)  Tell the truth as we see it. (Have you ever stood up and said, “That’s not right, because…” or “I know a better way…” and you saved the company from harm?)
5)  Deliver the best of our firm to every client as cost effectively as we can. (How have you solved a problem and come up with the trim, streamlined solution?)

Sense of self.
Really–what are your core motivations for choosing their company?  Are you a walking model of their core philosophies and business practices?  I once went into an interview with a potential employer and (being honest) I told them that I would love to work for them for a few years and that I would love to move on to a larger company.  They later told me that as much as they loved me for the role, they knew my heart wasn’t in it long term, so they gave it to the next person.  But it was important that I didn’t get it.  I wouldn’t have been happy.  You should be really honest about what motivates you and what gets you excited to wake up in the morning.  They are looking for people who want to wake up in the morning and do what they do every day.  If that’s not you, then don’t worry–there is a company that is just right for you.

Square Peg, Round Hole (From Flikr.com, December 8, 2007, by danstorey14)

Square Peg, Round Hole (From Flikr.com, December 8, 2007, by danstorey14)

For the average person, there is no one size fits all pitch, unless you’ve started your own company, competed in the Olympics, or played at Carnegie Hall at the age of 12 (or something else that very few people in the world can say that they’ve done).  So, voila.  If you’re averagely unique, like me, your sales pitch will change by company and it will show them how YOU are aligned with THEM in every way.

But don’t take my word for it–what are your stories?  Does this really work or not?

Revised 4 hours later: haha — I’m re-reading Alisa’s questions and the short answer is that there’s no secret sauce for the elevator pitch which is why no one gives an example of a good one.  Hopefully, you can align your strengths and experiences with each company’s core principles and show them how you’re a shoe-in for the role.  Thirty seconds or 30 minutes, at all points in the conversation, this perfect alignment of you and the company should be apparent to your interviewer (or recruiter, or whoever).  Funny how it takes writing a novel to finally come to a 3 sentence conclusion! 🙂  Thank you for reading!! 🙂

Who knew you were a salesman? (or woman!)

13 08 2009

One of the fundamental tricks to being an effective salesperson is listening to people’s pain points and providing them with solutions that will alleviate their troubles.  The solution being your product.

What people forget is that you are your own product every day.  I am my best asset.  My brain, my experience, my ability to find common ground and connect with someone.  These assets are the foundation for my product.  ME!  (did you see the first sentence in the paragraph?)

Storybook from Gao Guangyans Loneoceans Freehand Art Gallery

Storybook from Gao Guangyan's Loneoceans Freehand Art Gallery

Tell your story

When you finally get your interviewers in the room, they are going to ask you a series of questions that help them understand your story.  Who are you?  What are your strengths?  What are your potential weaknesses and are these weaknesses deal breakers for the role?

Be prepared to tell them your story.  Who are you?  Where did you come from?  How did you get here?

I’m Stefanie.  I am from San Francisco and I’m a middle child.  I also happen to have innate leadership skills that showed in early days of high school student government and manifested itself in numerous adventurous endeavors including entertainment PR, studying abroad, career centers and computer labs.  How did I get there?  Consistent hard work, the ability to stay calm during a crisis and my ability to connect with people.  What is your story?

(Your story is not a chance for you to brag about yourself, even if you are that amazing.  It is the beginning of your honest salesman pitch.   By being honest about who you are, what struggles you may have faced, and why you’re an asset, you are showing off your product.  You!)

Listening Image courtesy of Network Solutions

Listening from Network Solutions

Next.  Ask questions the right questions and listen.  Actively.

Employers hire because they have a need to be filled.  It’s not just a job to them.  They have a business critical service that you are going to need to deliver on.  They might be short handed, they might need you to file papers for the first 2 months.  Whatever it is, you, the astute interviewee, should figure out what it is that they need, and then figure out how you can help to fulfill that need.
And make their lives easier.

They need someone who is great with excel, because they have these crazy spreadsheets of data that need to be combed and analyzed.  Is that you?  They need someone who has a great visual eye to design a new website for their company.  Is that you?  If you are not good at solving their problem, should you try to fit yourself in as their solution?  Probably not.

For the employer, it’s a bigger pain in the butt for them to train you on common tasks than to hire someone else who knows how to do it already.  Think round hole, square peg.

That being said, brush up and stay current with your skills, regardless of whether you are employed.  Being nimble and well versed in various languages (not just linguistics, but programming, and business/law/industry jargon), tools, and subject matters are going to be your biggest asset.

Woah.  I just told you what your biggest assets are.  Your skills and expertise.  But then, I’ve been telling you this from the start!  Refine them, expand your knowledge base, and then sell them YOU in your next interview.  You can do it!

Why?  You’re awesome.  You’re just unemployed. 🙂

Guest Post: The Power of Visualization

6 08 2009

Your Friday inspiration & guest blog post by Samantha Chui (with a little note from me at the end!).

Find What You Love, and Do It!

I’m sure you hear this all the time, that’s probably because it’s true. Find what you love, and do it!

Now that certainly isn’t the tune that my parents were singing as I was growing up. Coming from a fairly traditional Asian household, the motto was, “Find something financially secure and socially acceptable, and do it! Now, eat your rice!” Like many others, I bought into this and now as a 26yr old-busy-yuppie-financially secure-somewhat socially acceptable-software engineer, I am thinking again about what I want to do with my life. Is there something more that I could be doing?

When Randy Pausch gave his Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon in 2007, his audience was blown away by the beauty of his message. Titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” his hour-long presentation told the ways he achieved his dreams and then through his work as a professor how he enabled the dreams of others. If you haven’t seen his lecture, for godsake stop reading this and watch it below! Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Randy spent the last months of his life undergoing treatment and pondering what message to leave his children with. The lecture he gave at his university to former students and colleagues was the culmination of all those thoughts, and by sharing it he left a larger legacy than any letter he could have given to his children in private.

Randy’s dreams were to:

  • Be in zero gravity
  • Play in the NFL
  • Author an article in the World Book encyclopedia
  • Be Captain Kirk
  • Win stuffed animals
  • Be a Disney Imagineer

And he achieved them all! (or at least variations on them…being Captain Kirk is hard.)

That got me thinking. What are my dreams? And can I really do them?

One weekend, I sat down and wrote all my dreams on post-it notes and stuck them to my wall. Anyone’s who’s been to my apartment is familiar with this peculiar fixture. Over the past year or so I’ve been crossing items off and adding new ones. Because even though Randy talks about childhood dreams, my dreams are always changing. And hell yeah, I’m serious about doing them. (My mom’s been trying to dissuade me by giving me books about disasters on Mt. Everest. Which of course only makes me want to go more!)


Let’s look at that list above.

Buy goldfish. Fish are more fun with friends! I bought a fishtank and 5 goldfish, and set it up in my cubicle at work. Turns out, people love fish! We’ve had some mishaps (rest-in-peace carl 1, 2, and 3), but now that fishtank is a community tank, and a literal watering hole.

Go to grad school. Not quite grad school, but I completed my certificate in project and program management through UCSC extension, paid for by my company!

Get braces. I’ve wanted them forever and raved about them to anyone who would care to listen. Now I feel like I’ve started a movement. C’mon, what are the chances of having 3 out of 20 employees getting braces at the same time?

Climb Mount Everest. Amazingly, I’m not the only one who is into insane hikes. Half Dome completed (8,836ft) three times, tons more to go: Everest (29,029ft)

Each person has different dreams that they set out for themselves and no matter how many people deter you or how many other things get in the way, staying positive, visualizing your goals, and keeping them in constant view really helps you achieve those dreams.

So find what you love, post it up, and go do it!

Stefanie’s commentary:

It’s hard to spend time living your dreams when you are burdened with heaviness of being unemployed.  I get that.  But what’s really amazing about Samantha’s story is her positive attitude.  When I first saw Samantha’s wall of post-its, I thought, “Wow, what a powerful tool for keeping your goals present and visible at all times.”  It almost creates a sense of accountability to yourself.  What was more amazing is when I looked at her wall, she had already done half of the things she had set out to do earlier in the year.  (I made her take off a bunch of them!  She didn’t even realize that she had set those goals out for herself back then!)

There’s definitely something to be said about the power of visualization.  Before a gymnastics meet, you might see a gymnast close her eyes and just breathe.  What she’s also doing is visualizing her routines, her every step and her ability to adapt to things that might happen.  She does all this before she even takes her first step onto the floor and it keeps her focused when she enters the task.  And guess what?  She nails it.  Why?  Because she already saw herself doing it.

My point is: Interviews, resumes, finding a job  can be extremely overwhelming, but rather than lose your head, close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize the things you have practiced and the things you know so well.  Visualize your goals, keep them present and visible, and, before you know it, you’ll be knockin off post-its like Sami!

To Change Careers or Not-to-Change Careers… That’s the Question.

24 07 2009
Lyndsay, me, and some other interns in our 2005 Intern Program

Lyndsay, me, and some other interns in our 2005 Intern Program

My friend Lyndsay emailed me with the following question:

“I need some help! I’ve been unemployed now for almost 7 months and it’s not fun.  I’ve sent out probably over 700 resumes at this point and have only had 2 interviews. I am basically in the worst possible industry right now real estate and finance.  I was an acquisitions analyst for a private equity group for about a year and half when I got laid off.  Boo bad economy.  I try my best to stay in touch with friends and contacts I’ve made in the industry, but they all keep telling me the same thing: it’s going to be a few years do something else in the meantime.   One big problem. I’m only qualified to work in my industry.  All of my experience, internships and my degree are all in real estate.  So my question is how does one go about a career change when you have no other experience?

What Lyndsay’s not telling you (but I know) is that she is deeply passionate about the Real Estate Industry and Finance, two of New York’s most defining businesses.  She has received awards and recognition in the field for her work and she is a true young expert.

Career changes should come about when you have a real passion for another industry and you’re ready to explore it.  In Lyndsay’s situation, she’s truly passionate about these two industries and I would encourage her to stay close, not change careers, so that she can get back into it when it picks back up.  For more advice on career changes, read these tips.

In the meantime, it’s important for her to stay productive, creative, and continue to develop her skills (…so when they ask her, “What have you been doing?”, she can pull out her long list…):

  1. Certificate Programs. Lyndsay is already certified in Real Estate and Finance, but if you aren’t already, go get additional certifications in the industry.  This is also a good way to expand your skills and explore other fields without going back to grad school.
  2. Grad School. Or you can just go to grad school!  But make sure you know exactly why you are chosing the field and what you want to gain out of the program BEYOND just continuing education.  Graduate degrees can be highly specialized, so they will make you well positioned for very specific roles/fields after grad school.  If you do not have a good idea about your plans after grad school, don’t go until you know!  (Please chime in if you went to grad school and want to share your experiences.)
  3. Build your personal brand. Build your personal brand by increasing presence as a virtual “expert” on online networks, like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or create your own website (all about you!).  Gather endorsements, join groups, list all your awards and certifications, and post your resume online through all these channels.  Contribute to expert blogs, build your own blog (add AdSense to make some $ while you are in between jobs), and link back to related blogs.  The more active you are, the more visible you are.  The chances of someone noticing you is higher.  The chances of you being hired is higher.  Instead of you coming to them, the companies will come to you.  (I will follow up on this one–I think this is really important!)
  4. Read.  Keep reading books, online articles, blogs, academic journals and newspapers to stay on top of the latest trends in the industry and its trajectory.  If you can stay on top of this, you will be able to talk about the most relevant trends in your next interview.
  5. Maintain your contacts. Keep talking to people and sharing your experiences.  Even though they might not be able to help you now, they might be able to help you in a few weeks or months… and because you stayed productive and stayed in touch, you will become top of mind when they need to fill a role.
  6. Be an expert, but diversify your experiences. Even as an expert, it’s important to diversify your expertise so that you can bring together the top traits from each industry.  For example, if you take tips and skills from the tech industry (new, developing, creative) and bring it to real estate and finance (established, consistent) you can really enhance the more established industries and bring in new, cutting edge technology and perspectives.

Overall, career changes are great for your personal development, but they should really help you along the path towards a career that you will find most satisfying.  If you’re already there, continue to stay the course, but work harder on building your personal brand in the space.

Update on Lyndsay:  She was doing the right things and within a week of emailing me, she has a new job!  If Lyndsay can do it, so can you!

(Lynds, let’s get together next time I’m in NYC!)