Career Planning Expert – Home[work] for the Holidays

When I wrote about my family’s Thanksgiving gathering a few weeks ago, I failed to mention that I used schoolwork as an excuse to avoid uncomfortable conversations with my family. At any inkling of biological clock ticking pressure or conversation around politics, I immediately retreated to the office or to the kitchen (glass of wine in hand) where I proceeded to wash the dishes for all fifteen guests. When my sister-in-law tried to intervene by taking the dishrag away from me I confronted her guilt head on: “I am not washing these dishes to be nice. I am washing them to avoid the conversation in the other room.” Her reply: “Well in that case, have at it!” and she handed the sponge right back to me.

I bring up this story for two reasons – a.) you may be able to use your job search process or networking efforts as a family avoidance tactic in the coming week, in which case I will provide you with some homework to make it easy on you and b.) I went to a Difficult Conversations-themed Lunch & Learn last week (sponsored by my university’s HR department) and even though I will not be seeing my family this week, there is no reason you shouldn’t benefit from what I learned. Perhaps I can even use some of it next Thanksgiving instead of being Cinderella!

Holiday Homework

1. Let’s start with the homework. Regardless of where you are with your job search process, the holidays are a great time to re-connect with your network of contacts. If you have the mental stamina to write holiday cards to everyone in your network, more power to you. (My husband and I are producing a video – stay tuned for it in the coming weeks). For the rest of us slackers, email communications are just fine. Let people know where you are in your profession and if applicable, that you would like to make a plan to meet up for coffee or lunch in the New Year. Keep in mind that people are in a giving mood this time of year – use it!

2. I also think this is a good opportunity to set up search agents on the big job search engines as well as smaller ones particular to your field or industry of interest. Even if you’re not looking, it’s still a good idea to know what is out there at all times as well as who is hiring. While you’re at it, cruise the websites of organizations of interest and see what positions they have posted. The holidays are a time of job transition, meaning if you are thinking about making a move, others probably are too. Expect to see more job postings in the coming months.

3. Last, but certainly not least, use this time to enhance your LinkedIn profile and your on-line brand. See my People who need People blog entry for some quick LinkedIn tips. Think about creating a Twitter account if you don’t already have one to follow companies or organizations of interest. If you are putting yourself out there, you will eventually get noticed!

Difficult Conversations

Increase objectivity and resourcefulness by writing things down: Our speaker (Jeff) asked us to write down the top five stimuli in our lives that create stress and reactivity. Then, he asked us if we felt better after we did so. I am pretty sure I let out a sigh of relief! Jeff shared that when you write things down, you break the bubble of denial and add one more degree of objectivity to the situation at hand. We separate emotional from cognitive processing and then we arrive at better and more objective decisions. Translation: write down what makes you crazy about your family/colleagues/friends etc. and then start to think about how to approach your next conversation.

Manage your response to stimuli by being proactive rather than reactive: Raise your hand if you ever were so angered by an email, voice mail, or offhand comment that you immediately fired back a nasty retort. I’ll bet a lot of you raised your hands. Guilty as charged here too since I grew up in a household where speaking before internalizing was commonplace. Translation: The next time you get fired up about something, stop, take a deep breath, and try to focus on the intent of the messenger. My high school U.S. history teacher used to have these signs all over the drab walls of his classroom that read, “it’s the Message, not the Method.” Although he was trying to get us to see past his dry lectures, here the point is that we get lost in the tone of a message even if the message itself or the intent are legitimate and positive. Stated simply, most people will not intentionally try to upset you. Look for the deeper meaning and give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping all over their case.

Don’t Be a Victim – Clarify Intent: Asking questions is the best way to understand the intent behind someone’s comments. It is easy to say that your Aunt Jane is a nightmare and it’s just easier to ignore everything that comes out of her mouth (since it’s always in a nasty tone anyway). Since you have already assigned a negative intent to her, you will likely approach her by going on the defensive. For a change, try using diagnostic language and seek to clarify the intentions of your relatives, i.e. seek to understand before seeking to be understood. You cannot change others’ behavior, but you can influence relationships and outcomes.

Final Tips for Difficult Conversations
1. Speak face to face and privately (if possible)
2. Assume the best in others (this is really hard, but you should try)
3. Use tentative (rather than accusatory) language
4. Share facts, not conclusions
5. Ask your conversation partner for his or her point of view
6. Treat this individual as you would treat your other colleagues/family members

Career Blunder: Since we are short on space here, I will remind you of a former career blunder of my own. This time last year, I was ready for professional change. I used every spare moment to focus on my job search and networking. I was embarrassed and astounded to see old messages from networking contacts in LinkedIn from two years prior (to which I had not responded)! Please don’t let this be you and please learn from my mistake. Keep those networks as warm as the stockings by your fire, lights on your menorah, or [insert your own warm, fuzzy holiday memory here].

Happy Holidays and Happy Job Searching too!

Joy Schwartz, Career Planning Expert, Campus Calm™

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