Interviewing and the “Lucky” Psychologist

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently read another book by Dr. Richard Wiseman, the author of “The Luck Factor,” a great treatise on harnessing cognitive therapy techniques to increase serendipity (my review is on LinkedIn and Amazon, if you’re interested). This new work, “59 Seconds,” offers a myriad of suggestions on happiness, motivation, relationships, decision making, et al, all of which can be accomplished in under a minute (I hope I don’t have to tell you where to find my review!).

One chapter, Persuasion, includes some fascinating insights on how to have your best performance in a job interview. As is always the case with Wiseman, the three suggestions offered are backed by empirical research. While admitting that virtually all interviewers are seeking to select the candidate who best matches the requirements of the position, there are clearly significant subjective factors that interviewees should consider to improve their chances.

Ready? Here they are . . .

Be likeable. Take the time to learn things you like about the organization and mention them in the interview. Seek to connect with the interviewer in areas of related interest. Feel free to be complimentary to both the individual and the company. Show enthusiasm. Smile frequently and maintain appropriate eye contact.

Be honest. Research seems to bear out that you are better sharing any shortcomings you may have early in the interview, not near the end. This type of open, up front communication tends to boost credibility. Also, save some of your strongest qualifications for the finish. It not only demonstrates modesty, it provides a strong close to the interview.

Don’t panic. Do your best not to overreact if you feel you’ve really made a major mistake. In most cases it is likely more noticeable to you than to the interviewer. Apologizing extensively or focusing on a faux pas tends to accentuate, not correct the mistake. Simply acknowledge it and move on.  For example, one of the experiments cited under this theme involved individuals wearing Barry Manilow T-shirts on a college campus. As embarrassed as the the test subjects were, only 20% on average of the people who saw them even noticed what they were wearing!

As important as qualifications are, research consistently highlighted the following question, per Wiseman: “Did the candidate appear to be a pleasant person?”

See, your mother was right when she told you to “Be nice!”


Telling Your Kids Where to Go – A Parent’s Guide to Careers

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently had a conversation with a young lady near completion of her undergraduate degree in a general business subject. I asked her what her next steps were. “Graduate school,” was her prompt reply. “What will you major in?” – I inquired. “I don’t know,” was her immediate response.

Perhaps as a parent myself, my head was spinning as I thought of the time, money and energy that had been expended to reach the response “I don’t know.” The cost of education continues to spiral upward and the number of career options before our young ones is growing exponentially.

What is a parent, grandparent, guardian, mentor, etc. to do? Education should be an investment in one’s future, not a repository for disposable income (if indeed any of us have it anymore!).

Here are some suggestions as to how to help those under your charge to consider what they want to be “when they grow up.”

Pay attention

Even at the earliest ages there are often hints as to natural gifts and talents. I have a son who, at an early age, was constantly taking things apart (and sometimes putting them back together). A non-traditional student, he ended up with a successful career as an automobile technician, learning and doing things that are well beyond my meager mechanical skills. Those “hints” were so present at a young age that my father used to call him “Fingers.” Watch what fascinates and engages your young ones, looking for clues as to their natural aptitudes, fascinations and skills. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra, “You can see a lot by just looking.”

Expose them

All of us are constantly surrounded by people doing a litany of occupations, from delivery drivers and store clerks to banking professionals and business owners. Reading books, watching television, enjoying popcorn at the movies, browsing on the Internet, etc., all provide opportunities to identify and discuss potential careers. When Henry Ford built his first automobile, you could choose only one color: black. Careers in the new millennium are a virtual rainbow of opportunities. Do your best to introduce them to the vibrant colors that make up the new vocational landscape.

Consider Expert Guidance

Although there is no assessment instrument out there to tell any of us what we should be “when we grow up,” the judicious, professional use of sound assessments can provide excellent insights regarding your child’s interests, skill confidences and values and how they relate to occupations and careers. This information is best used to investigate alternatives using my next suggestion: “Get Feedback from the Street.”

Get Feedback from the Street

I am constantly amazed how people spend so much time and energy in “due diligence” as they shop for cars, homes, technology, etc., yet they decide to become accountants simply because they are good at math (no disrespect meant to accountants, by the way, I need them desperately)! Use your network of contacts to find people in fields of interest to your kids and let them “shadow” them for the day (if possible), ask questions (I have an excellent list I can share with you), learn what it’s really like to be a _____________. No one knows better than someone who has been there.

Keep Options Open

Even as your young one moves ahead in their career decisions and vocational tracks, be sure to help them keep an eye on the shifting landscape that is part of the new career model. I am now reading that, rather than changing jobs 3-5 times in a lifetime, our kids may be changing careers as many times. This presents an excellent argument for helping them understand themselves and how what I like to call their “best stuff” relates to the vocational opportunities before them.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to contact me at

Categories: Career Development

How to Help the Unemployed

April 6, 2011 2 comments

Many of us are nearby, if not related to, people that I prefer to term as “Free Agents.” That is, for one reason or another, they find themselves unemployed. In conversation with a client today, I realized that we seldom think about how we can assist them in their employment search. After all, if  you can’t provide them with a job lead or a killer networking contact, you can’t help them, right?


Here are some practical tips for being there . . .

  • Keep them in your social circle. Unemployment is not communicable and we all need interaction with others.
  • Ask for a copy of their resume. Look it over, learn more about them and what they have done. If you have good advice on how it’s written or how to use it, tell them.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity that may interest them, whether it’s an article in the Business Section of the paper, a sign in the lawn in front of a company or a blog you just read.
  • Provide a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear. Job search is tough sledding. They may just need a sounding board at times, not advice.
  • Maintain regular contact and follow up in a positive and supportive manner.
  • Never ask them, “Didn’t you find work YET?!”

Finally, be a friend. They need one now, more than ever!

Rules for the New Workplace

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

An early ad said, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Now, the Oldsmobile is no more as of the model year 2004. If that was the case, then it is certainly true that “It’s not your father’s Workplace!”

Here are the Old Rules:

  • Get a good job with a solid company.
  • Do what you are told.
  • Take every promotion they offer you.
  • Stay until they present you with the “Gold Watch.”
  • Retire and get a hobby.

WRONG! I would respectfully suggest the following “Rules” for the New Workplace looming before us:

Be prepared for change at all times.

Only two things don’t change – God and change. As a company, stay flexible, forward thinking and open to adjustments for you, your industry and your personnel. As a worker, you need not fall in love with change, but you’d better learn how to handle it. Change happens.

Act as if you are self employed.

One of my favorite Twitter sites to follow is Careerrealism (, which touts the tagline “Because EVERY Job is Temporary.” Well, it is. As a company, don’t assume that you will be ordering gold watches with a volume discount. Help your employees see themselves as integral parts of the solution. As an employee, take action at work as if your paycheck is directly related to your performance (because, ultimately, it is!).

Never stop learning.

Employers should provide opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, knowledge and expertise that enhance them as individuals as well as enabling them to contribute at higher and higher levels. Employees should be seeking these opportunities continually, even if they must do it on their own. (See my earlier blog, “Play Me or Trade Me” for more insights – .)

Continually add value to your work.

“What have you done for me lately?” sounds very ungrateful, but it’s a Fact Of Work these days. The best way to stop advancing in your job is to simply do what is expected of you. Employers, create opportunities for the employee to contribute more to the position. Employees, never be completely satisfied with your performance. Always seek to improve.

Take charge of your attitude.

When my company is called in to work with employees, it is never on how to use a spreadsheet or fill out a time card. It’s to tech them how to “play well with others!”  Employers should seek to enhance the communication and teambuilding skills of staff through modeling the appropriate behavior as well as providing training and support in these areas. Employees should invest time and energy into enhancing their interpersonal skills.

Is it a New Workplace! You bet it is!


Categories: Career Development

Getting “Lucky” with Your Career

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Let’s be honest. Looking for work isn’t much fun. For those of us who have firsthand experience in this adventure, this is a gross understatement. Mailing out resumes, poring over want ads, clicking on websites, earnestly looking for a decent opportunity is significantly more exhausting than going to work will ever be! Add to this the fact that, at some level, it appears to be nothing more than an incredibly cruel numbers game. Keep plugging away until all of the employment stars line up, the vocational Heavenly Bodies are in alignment, and you land that next position.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could engage “Lady Luck” in this process, perhaps reducing some of the wear and tear on our psyches and increasing the likelihood of success before we run out of severance, unemployment compensation, energy, or all three?! Well, I have some good news – A British psychologist, Dr. Richard Wiseman, did research on the luck phenomena and developed a program to “improve your luck,” as described in his excellent book The Luck Factor – Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: Four Essential Principles. I reviewed this book on my LinkedIn Reading List and wanted to share some insights on how you can improve your “luck” – better represented as realized opportunity – in your job search. By the way, there are 12 corollaries to his four key traits that are very helpful as well, but you’ll have to get the book to learn about them!

Let’s consider the four key traits of “lucky” people, as defined by Dr. Richard Wiseman, with an eye towards how they can be applied to our employment search.

1.   Lucky people maximize the results of chance opportunities. As a matter of fact, they even create them.

Everywhere you are, everyone you meet, every situation you encounter has potential. Bumping into an old friend at the grocery store or chatting with an acquaintance in the dentist’s waiting room could be your introduction to a totally new networking of people and ideas. You can even “create” more of these opportunities by increasing your interaction with others at your place of worship, your neighborhood, yard sales, etc. Be sure to hone your networking skills, however, or you are more likely to create an island for yourself where all those around you give you a wide berth to avoid being harassed for job leads. Learn to ask questions and be honestly interested in their answers. Lucky people aren’t all that lucky. They just  create more opportunities for something to happen than most of us. Make those opportunities for yourself.

2.   Lucky people listen to their intuition as well as to their logic.

The mind is not only a terrible thing to waste, it is also a terrible guide if you base your actions only on what “makes sense” to do. Wiseman found that lucky people were more open to hunches, more likely to listen to their “gut” as well as their reason. Be sure you don’t experience “paralysis by analysis” or make the “perfect the enemy of the good.” I have christened this my “Why Not?”(tm) rule. If you don’t have an iron-clad reason not to move ahead, take another step. The world is full of individuals who engaged their intuition as well as their intellect, moving into new and at times uncertain, if not terrifying, territory to discover exciting new opportunities. These actions, by the way, may not have been as much based on a logical analysis of the facts as they were founded on hunches. Lucky people will listen to their hunches, exposing themselves to opportunities that Mr. Spock would have never considered.

3.   Lucky people have an expectation that things will work out. They cultivate a positive attitude.

It can be quite sad but is inexorably true. You can get up in the morning and decide you’ll have an unproductive, frustrating, nothing-but-trouble-day and everything that comes your way will affirm your opinion. Interestingly enough, if you decide to have a better day, not perfect but productive and opportunistic, the very same situations can provide some alternatives, suggest options, create opportunities. Does this mean that all you have to do is be positive and magic takes place? Nope, not even close! It does, however, mean that cultivating a positive attitude (called “Learned Optimism” by Dr. Martin Seligman, from the book of the same name – and yes, I did review it on LinkedIn!) can allow you to see situations that Eeyore would never identify. Look for the best in things.

4.   Lucky people, when faced with negative situations, find ways to turn them into positive results.

Bad situations frequently have good alternatives hidden within them. The loss of a job may free you up to consider a career change. When you are not selected for a position, you can use the experience to be better prepared next time. Dr. Seligman claims that you can acquire this ability if (like many of us) you are not born with it. He says that, just as individuals can develop Learned Helplessness (in other words, there is no sense in doing anything, it will fail anyway) they can acquire Learned Optimism (seeing the opportunity in unfortunate events).

Finally, in investigating the personality traits of “lucky” people, Dr. Wiseman found these three constants: luckier people are more extraverted (they interact with others constantly), less neurotic (they don’t let things get to them) and more open (they allow themselves to think “outside of the box”). You may want to consider developing these traits. Then you can become one of the “lucky stiffs!”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In 1982, the British punk / alternative rock band The Clash released their album “Combat Rock” to mixed reviews, although a number of the songs, notably “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” did experience some critical success. It’s not my typical listening fare, but one of the cuts from this album raises an excellent question for the job seeker: Should I Stay or Should I Go?


I know The Clash isn’t talking about employment, but the question is a fair one. As you consider vocational options for your next employment “gig,” one of the pressing alternatives is: 1) to stay in your present field, or 2) try something new.  I’d like to suggest that there are actually three potential choices in this vocational quandary:

  • Stay – Stay
  • Stay – Grow
  • Go – Grow

Let’s take some time to review these in greater detail to get a sense of your alternatives.

Stay – Stay

This choice implies seeking a lateral move, a status quo / more-of-the-same decision that allows you to bring your experience and expertise to a new organization where you will be doing much the same type of thing as you did at your most recent employer. No significant changes exist here. Your commute will be different and your job title may be new, but by and large what you will be doing is what you have been doing.

There is nothing wrong with this option, particularly if you found significant satisfaction in your previous work. This is likely one of the easier directions to investigate. A standard resume format will work (listing your titles and experience in reverse chronological order). Responding to the interview question “Why are you interested in this position?” is rather straightforward, since you’ve done this type of work before and want to do it again.

Where this direction may come up short for you, however, is if you are uninspired in your present work. I have called this, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” If this applies, you may want to consider one of the other options.

Stay – Grow

This direction focuses on using your work and life experiences to take your employment adventures “to the next level” (sorry for the cliché), beyond what you have done to new challenges, experiences, projects, etc. As in the Stay – Stay model, you are continuing your focus along the lines of your present experience (e.g., supervision in a manufacturing setting), but are challenging yourself to find a situation that will require and allow you to build on your previous experience to move up and on in your career development.

How this may affect your search is that you will want to make the case that you are an “up and comer,” someone with demonstrated successes who is seeking new challenges and areas of responsibility. You will want to make the point (in your resume, interviews, networking, etc.) that you are a force to be reckoned with, seeking new horizons and opportunities to add value to your new organization as well as continuing to develop yourself personally and professionally.

The Stay – Grow option could be problematic if you are disenchanted with your present career path and are hoping that more responsibility or a higher level of accountability will reinvigorate your flagging career attitude. It may, or it may just satisfy you for a short amount of time until you realize that all you’ve done is changed your parking space in the lot of a career that no longer excites you. If this is the case, you may want to consider the option behind “Door Number 3” –

Go – Grow

This final option says it’s time for something new. You don’t want more of the same anymore (Stay – Stay), and moving up in the same field will only postpone your inevitable employment ennui (Stay – Grow), so it’s

time for a change. This could be seeking to bring your experience into a new industry or business (from banking to hospitality, for example), or it may mean making a radical change into a dramatically new and different field.

This kind of change is exciting but also quite challenging. In her excellent book Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra says that our earlier work experience can bind us and blind us to new alternatives. If you choose to move in this direction, be sure to invest time in learning more about I call “your best stuff” (key interests, values and skills) and how they may be met in work and life settings. You will need to create a skill-based resume to focus on what you bring to the game more than where you have been employed, and your networking will be more dynamic, seeking insights and alternatives beyond where you have been and what you have done. The best answers to these questions are out in the world. Get out there and start asking them.

Well there you are – Should you stay or should you go? It’s your call. Let me know if I can help you work through your options.

Run Through the Finishing Line!

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

As any of you who have been involved in a job search (or LIFE, if you’re really paying attention) know, the experience is more like a long distance race than a sprint! My chosen fitness pastime, running, has borne out this fact for over 30 of my years. I can still recall my first marathon experience: the gun went off, we all bolted out of the gate, and I took off like my singlet was on fire. I vividly remember bragging to my cohorts along the course, even as far along as the 15th mile of the 26.2, that “this race is MINE!”

Then I met, for my first time, my now bosom buddy The Wall. Somewhere around mile 18-22, most runners reach a point where the body wants to be done but the finish line still beckons. For my first marathon, this meant that last 6.2 miles would be excruciatingly slow. I had not learned the cardinal rule of distance running: PACING. My credo now for marathons is one I borrowed from a T-shirt I read on one of my many 26.2 adventures – “Start out slow, then taper off.”

I have also gleaned one other pearl of wisdom, the title of this blog: Run through the finishing line. As the picture demonstrates, my weary figure has managed to finish ahead of a number of individuals, but NOT because I found another gear, my carbo-loading kicked in, or I reached down deep to burst past my fellow runners in a blaze of glory. I finished ahead of them because they slowed down. They saw the finish line and started to back off, since they were almost there. I simply determined to keep my pace, not slowing down until the finish line was behind me.

I think you see my metaphor. As you the job seeker are, at present, seeking the result of a new position, there is no way to know if the present opportunity before you is the finishing line, or if the real result is around the next bend. My years of running have taught me that, whenever I slow down to jog through the finishing line, I am almost always passed by someone who has not done so. To be sure, there have been times when my running through the finishing line still caused me to be passed by someone with more talent than me (there are a lot of them out there!), but at least by maintaining my pace I create the opportunity for the best results.

The morale of this blog: if you think you will get your dream job offer by Friday, don’t stop looking on Wednesday. You may end up being passed with the finish line in sight.