When it comes to job searching, networking is a key factor in success. Ideally, you make initial connections with people through LinkedIn (maybe even after meeting them in-person or at some kind of group online event). This is a great start. To really capitalize on a networking relationship, having a networking meeting can be extremely beneficial.
What Are Networking Meetings?
So what exactly is a networking meeting? In the good old days, I remember hearing people talk about doing informational interviews. In short, if you were interested in having a certain job, or working with a certain company, you would contact and organization or individual and ask if they would meet you for an informational interview. Here you might learn about the company, what they are looking for, skills to acquire, and more. It also gave you the opportunity to start to build a relationship with a company--or a possible advocate in the person doling out said information.
Fast forward to now. These days, a networking meeting is typically you and another person deciding to spend a half hour-ish together, (with the pandemic, usually virtually using Zoom with cameras on kind of like if you were having coffee) and chatting a bit. If you're job searching, the typical focus will be on how you can make progress in your job search. Someone may to agree to a networking meeting because you have things in common (like field of work, background, professional goals), because they are generally committed to helping people when they are job searching, or because you have a mutual acquaintance to asked that person specifically to meet with you to help you out.
Networking Meeting = Informal Interview
Whenever you have an opportunity to meet one on one with someone, remember that you are taking part in a type of informal interview. Whenever I meet with someone who is in career transition, my goal is to help them figure out their next steps, offer advice (if they ask and are interested) and give them ideas on next steps they might take, including who else they should speak with next.
While I go in with this idea, the amount of help I'll provide also depends on how this networking meeting goes. Ideally, we have a good, productive conversation, and I think to myself, "I totally want to help this person more." If the meeting goes well, I'll refer them to specific resources that might benefit them (like a networking group they might want to join, a company to check out, someone to follow on LinkedIn) and even put in a good word for them to have a networking meeting with someone else who might get them closer to their goals. In addition, if it goes well, this is a person who I'll refer to others for openings, pass on job opportunities, and maybe even hire someday. If the meeting doesn't go well, I'll share a few resources, but may not be willing to help them as actively moving forward.
Remember, interaction you have with people will impact their desire to help you going forward.
Types of Networking Meetings
Here are a few common types of networking meetings:
Networking Meeting Best Practices
Here are a few best practices for networking meetings:
The True Power of Networking Meetings
When people talk about how they "networked" into a new job, typically that means that they leveraged their initial connections, to help make inroads with new connections, who helped them get closer to a new position. The holy grail of networking meetings is when the person you meet with agrees to introduce you to someone else they know who could help you, and that process repeats until you're talking to a hiring manager or influencer who can help you get an interview for a job. Having good networking meetings is a critical step in that process.
What Do You Think?
What are your job search networking tips and tricks? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Change is Constant
Businesses are always changing. They constantly update strategy to stay viable long term. Changing staffing levels is one way they evolve to meet needs. While changes may bring great opportunities, they could also mean layoffs are imminent.
Here are a few signs that your employer may be closer to reducing staffing levels.
From the dot.com bubble, to the 9/11 attacks, to the subprime mortgage crisis and beyond, economic conditions impact the viability of individual businesses.
Most recently, during the pandemic, we saw some businesses boom (like video conferencing) while others struggled (like hospitality). Consequently, for those organizations that were floundering, job eliminations followed.
Some were hit right away, while others lagged. For example, a company specializing in planning in-person events was impacted early pandemic, but the vendors who supported them with software felt the aftereffects.
Not all companies are successful--even in a strong economy. Companies might miss their sales targets for a quarter (or longer) or start to lose market share to a competitor.
To adjust, they may start with small cost cutting measures, like having fewer snacks in the breakroom or downsizing employee events. On a bigger level, there may be hiring freezes, no raises, or stopping performance bonuses. There could even be temporary pay cuts or the elimination of some benefits (like employer contributions to a retirement plan).
Since salaries are one of the biggest line items companies have, eliminating staff is one way to address financial troubles that shows a big, more immediate impact to the bottom line.
Changes in leadership, whether a CEO or a frontline manager, can impact an employee’s future. When a president is replaced, a VP of a critical department moves on, or a manager leaves due to personal reasons, new people fill those gaps.
New leaders typically review the current state, assess staffing levels, revisit company goals, and make changes. This may include them bringing in their own people, restructuring departments, halting unsuccessful projects, or starting new initiatives. In some cases, they may bring in one or more consultants to make recommendations—including the jobs that will continue, their scope, and who will do them.
When companies have new owners, changes are inevitable. Duplicate teams will combine and some positions may be consolidated or eliminated. Differences in company values may mean that a department present in one company is no longer valued in another.
Regardless of the circumstances, one thing is certain. The organizations in question will determine changes that need to be made and move forward in a way to make the company stronger—which may or may not include a job for you.
Occasionally, companies revisit their goals and decide to switch directions. For example, a call center might start expecting all agents to be able to answer all call types, then shift to having specialized teams, then decide later to outsource, or eliminate a service altogether.
Shifts take place to minimize costs or capitalize on a potentially lucrative market. This also means that the job that you have that was once seen as essential may later be deemed out of scope.
On an individual level, changes to your job (especially if it becomes less challenging) may be a hint about the future of your role. If at one point you led projects, and now you find yourself being left out of key meetings, take notice. See if this is an isolated incident or a pattern.
This may also be a downstream effect from changes elsewhere in the organization. For example, a new manager may observe you doing your (now less challenging) job and see a misalignment between the value you bring and the salary you receive. Whether this is due to a new boss who isn’t your biggest fan, or one who has a former colleague they want to bring in to replace you, it’s important to pay attention. Changes in responsibilities may put you in jeopardy as the organization evolves.
Depending on company culture, the amount of voluntary and involuntary turnover varies. While some companies have employees who have been there well over a decade, others may have the bulk of their staff there less than a year.
A larger, more established company has a better chance of having more longevity, while a tech startup may have more people regularly coming and going. Some may quickly decide if an employee is an organizational fit and take action. Others will have a structured (and often lengthy) procedure for attempting to correct performance before terminating. An organization’s mission, values, and day-to-day practices impact the likelihood that someone else will decide when you move on.
All of The Above
Sometimes, a layoff is inevitably caused by a series of events. It may start as an economic downturn, followed by the company’s financial issues, then a leadership change, a resulting reorganization, and ending with the company being sold.
What Do You Think?
What indicators have you noticed the precede an involuntary job loss? What steps have you taken to address your suspicions? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The Battle: Hopes vs. Fears
Finding yourself in between jobs is a great opportunity to rethink what you want and shift your career in another direction. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of limitless possibilities comes the persistent fear you will never find work again.
Through this process, the part of you that feels bound for greatness is constantly bickering with that voice telling you to shut up and take the first job you can get so you don’t end up financially destitute.
How can you keep these two competing ideas from undermining your job search and your overall career success?
Getting the Dreamer and the Bill Payer to Play Nice
A key first step to job searching is figuring out what you really want in your next role. Chances are, there have been good parts and bad parts of each of your previous jobs that inform what you want in the future. There are the basics, (health insurance access, a competitive salary, core responsibilities) and the finer points (career development opportunities, interesting projects, and an industry you love).
Unfortunately, discussions about searching for work tend to skip right over the lower levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (food, shelter, security, and safety) and jump right to self-actualization. In truth, we have to meet those core needs (which typically depend on a consistent and sufficient stream of income) while also striving to getting closer to meeting our full potential (which will contribute to our overall well-being).
While in career transition, that means balancing our need to make our interim sources of income (unemployment and any other money we can lay hands on) are able to bridge us from our last stable income stream to our next with as little undue anxiety as possible.
A core challenge of managing yourself during a job search is that you don’t know how long unemployment will last. In my six periods of career transition, my shortest was a month, and my longest was closer to six.
In reality, you’re unemployed a week at a time, not knowing when you’ll head back to work and a steady paycheck. It’s a balance between keeping the faith, and deciding what your plan A, B, C (and sometimes up to J) should be depending on how your job search goes.
In my most recent period of career transition, I started by figuring out what I wanted in a role. I wrote down the non-negotiables, the nice-to-haves, and the definitely-nots. I started job searching, networking, and applying for roles.
I also thought about timelines, and how I would modify my goals depending on the length of time I went without a long-term full-time job.
Job Searching Guidelines and Timelines
Here are my personal job searching guidelines factoring in timelines.
Adjust As Needed
I wrote guidelines based on my personal situation and what I thought made sense for me. Your timeline may differ. In addition, as new information entered the equation, I adjusted my plan. For example, during a previous period of career transition, I ended up finding a short-term contract role that was well-aligned with my overall work goals, so I took it. It didn’t necessarily align with my general guidelines as stated, but it made sense in the overall scheme of my career goals and job search timeline.
What Do You Think?
How did you think through your job search goals while in career transition? How did you adjust your plans based on the length of your unemployment?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
All The Feels
Whether due to an economic downturn, an acquisition, or company reorganization, I’ve found myself in an unexpected career transition six times over the past 20 years. Even having gone through several layoffs, it’s still an emotional experience each and every time. Here is the bad and the ugly of the feelings I’ve personally gone through.
The phone call from HR, the perp walk through the office to the dreaded conference room, the last minute ominous meeting invite, or the oddly timed tap on the shoulder all seem to come out of nowhere. There is something surreal about being pulled into a virtual or in-person room and having someone look you dead in the eye and tell you that you were going to go through a big life change starting, well, now.
Even if there were layoff rumors, or news about leadership changes, or low sales report for the quarter, it’s always a surprise on the date and time when layoffs go down. It’s the feeling of the ground being pulled out from under. It’s the gap between expecting a full day of meetings and finding yourself in you car mid-morning with a white box.
Even in cases where I was actively looking for a new role, there’s a certain amount of anger that goes along with a layoff. I was angry learning about the people who didn’t get laid off (like that guy whose messes I’ve been cleaning up for the last year) and comparing my perceived value to theirs. I’ve been angry at the timing (right after vacation, right before a holiday) and how that makes finding something new a longer process. I’ve been mad that yesterday’s mission critical work-all-night project has now become irrelevant. Mostly, I’ve been mad that someone else decided when I didn’t get to do that job anymore instead of me getting to choose when it was time for me to move on. Feeling that lack of control if often the hardest part.
Leaving a job abruptly leaves a big hole in your life starting with the 9+ hours per workday being replaced with dead air and uncertainty. People who earlier that day were coworkers, casual work friendships, or confidents now may be nothing at all now that you no longer share an employer. The consistency of a morning routine, daily commute, and regularly scheduled meetings are replaced with a period of uncertainty that may last a week or a year. Sometimes it’s easy to be hopeful about the future, and other times it’s hard not to be mired in sadness about all the things you can’t control.
There is plenty to be afraid of. The idea of not having a paycheck is horrifying. Not knowing how long your final payout or severance check has to last is unnerving. Now knowing how long unemployment will last and what job you’ll end up with—is, at times, unbearable. I fear being unemployed endlessly and not being able to support myself. I worry about panicking and taking the first job offered to me. I worry about holding out for something closer to the “perfect” job that may never come. I worry that I will never get a job as good as the one I had. On the worst days, when fear has given way to full-on catastrophizing, I worry that I will lose my house, my car, my professional reputation, and everyone I’ve ever loved.
The Good News
While all of these feelings are difficult and unpleasant, it’s important to acknowledge what is happening. It’s helpful to focus on the possibilities the future holds while also grieving the loss of your previous job. After addressing the sadness for the loss of the future you thought you would have, then you can decide what you want your next career step to look like and take steps to get to that even better future.
What Do You Think?
Have you been through a layoff? What feelings have you experienced? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Interviewing for a New Role
As a now 6-time layoff survivor, I have done many job searches, and had many interviews. Recently, I read an article about a job searcher who opted out of one hiring process. He did this after making it through three rounds of interviews, and having the organization ask about arranging the next six (yes, six) additional rounds of interviews. (I included an article with details in the "Learn More" section.)
I felt compelled to share my own story about one seemingly never-ending interview process. Like with many things in life, it took a bad experience to teach me how to make better decisions around participating in interview processes when job searching.
Job Interviewing Boundary Setting is Hard
Let me start by taking a moment to acknowledge that this is not always easy to do. When you’re hip deep in a job search, especially when you’re unemployed, it is hard to set boundaries. The longer the search goes on, the easier it is to tell yourself that you’ll summit Everest if a potential employer asks you to as part of possibly FINALLY getting a paying job. Here is your reminder that it’s important for you to realize that jumping through more and more hoops doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with a job at the end of the process. Do your future job searching self a favor and think through what your boundaries are when it comes to participating in a given company's hiring process. We'll revisit this a little later.
The Perfect Job! (or was it...)
During this particular job search, I was laid off at the end of the summer. From previous job searches, I hoped to find a new position before Thanksgiving, because otherwise it might be until February or March before I secured a new role.
I was very excited when I ran across THE PERFECT JOB! It was an opening for a training director position within an easy commuting distance where I even knew someone who had connections within the organization.
Lessons Learned: Don’t fall in love with a job. Even if it seems like “the perfect job”, it is not yet “your job”. Apply, hope for the best, but keep on applying. Until you have an actual accepted job offer, it is not “your job.”
The Inside Scoop
I met with my professional connection, and they filled me in. I learned about the organization, their clientele, their mission, the key players in the hiring process, and useful background information. My connection even put in a good word with the organization (they had left on good terms.) I also learned that the company had a some turnover in this position, so they were trying to make sure they did their due diligence and hired the right person this time around.
Lesson Learned: Even when you’re excited because you found THE PERFECT JOB, gather information and listen to what people tell you. This company having gone through two people in the role in a relatively short period of time, and being concerned about making another hiring misstep is something I heard, and noted, but I didn't really listen to as much as I should have. In this case, the company was trying (maybe a little too) hard to hire the right person for the role. It could have also indicated that there was something about the company or the role that caused people not to stay. Again, my future self knows to synthesize information gathered more carefully--and not emphasizing only the good things.
The Phone Interviews
I applied, and my connection put in a good word for me. Very quickly, the company reached out to me for an initial phone screen. Then a phone interview. Then another phone interview. Then yet another phone interview. After four phone calls—each where the interviewer seemed excited about me as a candidate and talked about who else I needed to talk to—I started to wonder what the whole game plan for this whole process was (aside from their overwhelming goal not to make a hiring mistake).
Lessons Learned: In the initial phone screen or the first interview, be sure to ask what the hiring process is. Decide what your boundaries are, and if you’re willing to do all of the things they want you to do. Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Make no assumptions. Don't get so excited that they keep wanting to talk with you that you keep on going not knowing what the whole process will be (and if you're willing to continue on that path).
The Work Samples
In addition to talking to different interviewers on multiple occasions, the company wanted to see work samples. I emailed work samples and met with a subject matter expert who was well-versed in adult education and instructional design. They complimented me on the trainer guide, videos, and job aids I had created. They told me they were impressed with my work, and learned from what I told them. At this point, they told me the next step was for me to meet with the company founder.
Lessons Learned: Have a portfolio online that people can access, or let people know that you are happy to review work samples (and your process) with them in an in-person or Zoom meeting.
The Zoom Meetings
I was excited to be meeting the company founder, who was also a published author. In preparation, I bought and read their most recent book, researched their accomplishments, read their blog articles, and their body of work. During the interview, we had a great conversation, which included a lot of “when we work together” and “next steps” language.
This meeting was followed by multiple Zoom meetings with different stakeholders explaining the next steps in this process—which they called an “in-box experience.” During this phase, I would come into their office and work for a half day. I would have a chance to interact with multiple people with whom I would work, including consultants and a client. This would require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, work on a project for an actual client, and present information to a client.
Lessons Learned: No matter how many interviews you have, or how much they seem to like you, remember you do not have the job until they have made you an offer and you have come to an agreement about your compensation. Remember that the goal of this process is that the employer decides if they want to work with you, and you decide if you want to work with them. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I invested this much time without talking about salary expectations.
The In-Box Experience
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8:00 am, I arrived for my in-box experience. I brought my computer and the work I had done so far. I was told that I needed to use their computer for my work that day. During the four hours that I was there pretending I worked for them, I had an in-person panel interview with people I had talked with via phone, interviewed via Zoom with a consultant, ran a project meeting, completed work on instructional materials for a client, and got feedback on my performance along the way. I had a final conversation with one of the decision makers before ending my day. I was told I'd hear back early the following week.
Lessons Learned: Determine ahead of time how much you are willing to do for a role, and when to call it. Remember, you're interviewing them, too.
Thanks, But No
In the middle of the following week, I got a call back. It was very brief. Thanks for my time, but they had decided not to proceed with me as a candidate. If I like, though, they would be willing to add me to their possible consultant database for future contract work.
Lesson Learned: Never again. In short, I spent about 45 hours total, including about 15 hours of unpaid work that I did for the company, to end up with no job offer. Time to transition those lessons learned into new personal guidelines.
Remember the boundary setting I mentioned before? Here's where we revisit it. After going through this process (and getting mad all over again writing this up), I am reminded of the outcome of those lessons learned for me.
What Do You Think?
What have you personally learned during the job interviewing process? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Network Building in the Beforetimes
Pre-pandemic, "networking" typically meant attending in-person events, shaking a few hands, and having a somewhat meaningful conversation with another human. While some of those in-person opportunities are intermittently available, large group events are more the exception than the norm. As with other lessons learned on adapting to remote work, the way we build our professional networks also has to adapt.
Enter the Webinar
Like many people, I have attended (and delivered) approximately a bijillion online meetings, trainings, and interactive instructor-led sessions over the last little bit. I've been approaching these sessions with a mind towards not just attending, but also making new connections. The process is different, but I realized that I've actually managed to connect with more people (and often form more meaningful connections), that I sometimes do working a room. As someone who runs introverted and communicates effectively in writing, this was an opportunity to turn webinars into a bonus network building exercise.
Finding Possible Connections
When attending a webinar where interaction was promoted, I made sure to participate. I also noted other attendees (sometimes taking screen shots of the participant pane) and what contributions each person made. After the session, I would use those details to follow up on those fledgling connections on LinkedIn.
Researching Potential Connections
After attending a webinar, here is my process for adding new LinkedIn connections:
Key Components of a Connection Request
Personalizing connection requests is a great way to start building a relationship with a new professional contact.
Connection Request Examples
Here are a few examples of messages that you can use to invite people to connect. You have 300 characters total to use for personalizing connection requests.
Hi, Jen. I see we both attended today’s White Box Club meeting. I’m also in transition and seeking a new role in learning and development. Let's connect!
I'm also always up for a 30-minute "virtual coffee" meeting to discuss how we can help one another as we job search.
Hi, Jack. Great to interact with you a bit at this morning's Excellence Share. I love sharing ideas with fellow L&D professionals. Let's connect!
Hi, Javier. Welcome to the PACT organization! I know I personally appreciate everything I learn from this awesome group of people. Since you mentioned that you are job searching, be sure to check out The White Box Club on Meetup to help you as you find your next role.
Keep in touch!
After The Initial Connection
How do you further nurture that relationship? Here are a few ideas.
What Do You Think?
What are your strategies for building your network online.
The Adventure of Career Transition
Since the beginning of forever, I have worked in the field of learning and development in a corporate environment. I have also learned that two of the most at-risk fields for layoffs are marketing and training. In total, I have been laid off 6 times due to economic downturns, companies being bought or sold, or good old fashion reorganizations. While each period of unplanned job transition is rough in it's own way, here are three core truths that help me weather the storm as I search for a new work home.
Truth 1: Working time passes more quickly than non-working time.
When you're a hiring manager, you have a ton going on, and only one of those things is hiring a new person. You're still trying to manage your team, meet deadlines, troubleshoot customer problems, and juggle all of the people you're considering for your open position. In an interview, when one candidate asks about the hiring process, you tell them you should know who will move on to the next steps in the process "by the end of this week"--and at the time, you believe that is a reasonable deadline. Then there is a software release with a bug that causes three meetings to be scheduled with big clients, or someone quits suddenly leaving a lot of arrangements to be made, or your child has to be picked up from daycare with stomach flu. Friday comes and goes and getting in touch with a candidate falls off your radar until the next week.
Meanwhile, as a job seeker, you put a note on your calendar that you'll know one way or another by Friday. Then you analyze every syllable you uttered in the Zoom interview hoping that you didn't say anything awful. You rethink a facial expression that you interpreted as approving and wonder if it really was that at all. You suffer through Saturday, Sunday, and Monday secretly worrying that you will never work again. Ever.
Instead of spiraling, take action to get you closer to your job of being happily, gainfully employed. After the interview, send a thank you email to the hiring manager and send them a personalized connection request on LinkedIn. Put a note on your calendar for a few days after the hiring manager said they would get in touch with you. Reach out to them at that time including a few pleasantries, reiterating your interest in the role, and asking for an update. Will you get the job? Who knows. You did your part, identified what you can work on, and will continue to learn and grow as you go through the process for more roles.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
Truth 2: Don't fall in love with a job opening.
Inevitably as a job searcher, you run across it. THE job. It's the one you know is meant to be yours. It's perfect--easy commute, a great title, the go-to company, exactly what you are qualified (and want) to do. In your head you know it--this is MY job. You picture your new business cards, where you'll park, and how you'll introduct yourself as the "Director of Awesomeness" for this perfect company. You think--why should I even bother applying for anything else because this is SO my job!
Except, well, it's not actually your job yet. You're looking at it and see yourself in it, but it's not real. You don't work there. No one is sending you a paycheck for it. They don't even know your name yet. This MAY be the job you eventually get, but nothing is done yet. You know what else? It may not end up being your job. You need to remind yourself that it's not a done deal. Apply for that job--even work hard to get it. Know, though, that you may end up not even getting called in for an interview. This doesn't mean you're not still awesome. There's just a lot going on. There may be an internal candidate, or a previous coworker of the hiring manager, or someone who has a referral from a college friend, or someone who has even slightly more of a qualification that didn't make that job posting.
Instead of spiraling, take action to get you closer to your job of being happily, gainfully employed. Any time you find yourself falling in love with a job, or thinking of something as "your job", make an extra effort to go apply for additional jobs. If the job you see yourself in works out, great. If not, you're still working towards your ultimate goal of finding a new role (complete with a paycheck) whichever one that might be.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
Truth 3: You only need one job.
Applying for jobs is a process. Looking back at my records, I have typically applied for between 40 and 100 jobs when I've been in career transition. It's easy to get discouraged. Sometimes you apply and hear back a fat lot of nothing. Personally, sometimes my stomach sinks when I see a job that I've applied for (and was quickly rejected) and it's reposted and realizing that they will hire "not me" for that role. It's hard when the job where you interviewed a ton of times tells you they really liked you, but went with an internal candidate. It's rough to hear that you were great, but that you came in second. There is so much rejection in the job search process, that it's inevitable that you'll feel down, and like a loser, and like there is no hope.
At the end of the day, though, you only need one job. You need one organization to tell you "yes". You need one place where you and the employer agree that you'll work together. When I remind myself that I only need a success rate of 1 in 50 to be happily, gainfully employed, it makes it all seem more manageable. All those no answers get you to the one yes you need. The trick is that you don't know which one will be that yes.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
What do you think?
What job search words of wisdom resonate with you the most? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Death by Lecture
As humans in today’s fast-paced world, we often value getting the job done as quickly as possible. When it comes to helping people learn, lecturing’s, aka “just tell them everything they need to know,” becomes the unfortunate default mode of information delivery. Unfortunately, the process of knowledge transfer doesn’t work like a bank deposit, and we can’t just extract knowledge from one person and implant it in another. Instead, individuals need to engage with information so they understand what to do with those details and make them into their own, internalized knowledge.
Grandpa, Tell Me a Story
You know who loves stories? Little kids. Do you know why? They are trying to figure out what the world is all about and what to do with all of the things they are experiencing for the first time. Just like adults use stories to help children understand the world, stories help adults make the transition from bland best practice or potentially useful technique to thing-I-actually-do. Let’s look at three examples of how stories can be incorporated into training to engage people in the learning process and help adults actually learn.
Reason 1: Stories Help Concepts Become Real
In training, many times we’re covering abstract ideas, and sharing models for how to apply those ideas. Stories help us make that jump. Here's an example:
During a training with customer service professionals, we're trying to help them understand the importance of getting to know individual customers and catering to their unique needs.
"Each customer is different. Every person who calls us on the phone has their own point of view and personal struggles that we may know nothing about. We need to find out what matters to them and emphasize those points as we speak to them. Overall, be careful about making assumptions about people’s wants and needs based on your personal preferences."
Story to make the idea real:
"Here’s an example of learning about our customers and tailoring our approach to their wants and needs.
While working at a table at a church conference, my job was to discuss health insurance benefits with pastors currently working in congregations. I was there to promote a great new benefit where pastors could earn $250 for completing an online health assessment quiz. For me, taking the health assessment was a no-brainer, because I thought, “Yay! Free money!”
I quickly learned, though, that this was not the prevailing opinion among the pastors. Several stopped to express outrage that the church was trying to BRIBE them to take the health assessment. Since many of the pastors prided themselves on being more concerned with doing good in the world than with money, having a financial reward for doing something that they should do anyway became a disincentive.
One church leader realized that a different approach was needed. She used the concept of stewardship—which means taking care of the gifts God has given to you, including your money and your own personal health. She told pastors that it was their duty as leaders of the church to model good stewardship by taking the health assessment (especially since another benefit was helping their congregation to earn a discount on their health insurance premiums).
By keeping the wants and needs of the audience in mind, and realizing that they may be very different from our own, we figured out how to position this benefit in a way that resonated with our audience. "
How the story helps:
This story takes an abstract concept (everyone is different) and drives it home. Since many people may identify with the person who would gladly take the health assessment to earn money, seeing a completely different, and often unexpected, viewpoint can be shocking. Adding details about people and context for why they have the values they do, can be eye-opening.
Reason 2: Stories Help People Learn from Other People's Experiences
When you first learn a concept, it may sound good in the abstract, but you're not sure how to apply that idea in the real world. In professions like being a police officer or a fire fighter, stories are a way that seasoned staff help rookies learn from other people's experiences. Here's an example of how to use stories to share real-world examples.
With new corporate trainers, using proximity technique to deal with disruptive students in a classroom environment.
"When trying to manage students who are disrupting the classroom, using proximity can be helpful. In short, standing near a student can help them to realize that they need to change their behavior."
Story to share one person’s experience using the technique:
"During student introductions at the beginning of a sales training class, Alice, a branch manager sitting at a table in the back of the room, was explaining what she hoped to gain from class.
In the middle of Alice’s introduction, Jim (the top insurance salesperson in the region) answered his phone. He was sitting at the front table in the classroom, and there was no way for the whole class NOT to hear his conversation as he loudly explained the concept of accident forgiveness.
I asked Alice to pause for a moment, then walked over to Jim, and stood next to him for a moment. He looked at me, I smiled at him, and then he put his hand over his phone long enough to say, “I’ll step outside to finish this call.” I nodded to let him know that I appreciate it. Once he left, Alice finished up, and the next person did their introduction.
In this case, standing next to Jim was the cue he needed to realize that he was doing something disruptive and self-correct his behavior."
How the story helped:
The story involves people with names and characteristics. This shows on sometimes challenging student, a high performing salesperson, and a situation that may resonate with students. It also shows how using a relatively simple solution can solve the problem, and help the trainer maintain control of their classroom. This story shows students how they can apply the skill, which may also help them identify when they could use a specific skill in their classroom.
Reason 3: To Give Context for Technical Training
When I’ve observed technical trainers, most of them are great at taking people through the step by step process needed to make something work. However, many times the question “why would we ever do this?” is missed. If people don’t get why the process matters, they will have a hard time mustering up enough energy to pay attention. Here's an example of how to use a story to set up a scenario within a technical training course.
Showing students in an intermediate Microsoft Word class how to use the mail merge feature to create mailing labels.
"We’re going to create mailing labels. This would be helpful if you needed to mail the same item, like a marketing campaign, to multiple people. You could even use a mailing list that you had saved in Excel as the starting point for your mailing labels."
Story to illustrate why you'd complete this process:
"Joanie and Chachi are getting married and having the big wedding of Joannie’s dreams.
Now that it’s time to address invitations, her best friend, Jenny Piccalo, points out that addressing 500 envelopes by hand is going to be excruciating.
Joannie has a great idea! Why not use the Excel file they’ve created and use the Mail Merge feature in Word to create mailing labels! They can even use one of those handwriting style fonts to help them match the script on the invitations.
Let’s look at how to set that up."
How the story helped:
Especially in technical training, sometimes we get so caught up in the “click here, click there, GOOD LORD NOT THERE” aspect of it that we forget to tell students why they’d ever bother to do the process we’re explaining. Giving them a why, in this case a why that aligns with concepts people know (the joys of managing the postal aspects of a big event) and incorporating fictional characters (who doesn’t love a little Happy Days reference?) adds a layer of lightheartedness that is often missing from technical training.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think telling stories in training is beneficial? What is your favorite story to tell? How does it enhance the learning process? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Do Your Future Self a Solid
Going to work expecting to finish up a report and lead a meeting and having your workday end abruptly at 10:00 AM walking to your car with a box containing all of your workly positions, is jarring. What's even more jarring is the realization that now--SURPRISE--you have to find a new job so that you can continue your extravagant lifestyle of living indoors and eating on a regular basis.
For the whole of my professional career, I have worked in the field of corporate education in positions like software trainer, training specialist, sales training manager and instructional designer. Like many of my colleagues, I've also been laid off three times in my 20+ year career. (I know people who have me beat by at least a couple of times.) While fixating on the fear of losing your job is a horrible way to exist, there are a few things that you can do now--while you're happily, gainfully employed--that can help lessen the blow if you do happen to find yourself suddenly in need of a new position.
Build Your Professional Network
If you read any articles about effective ways to find a new position, leveraging your professional network is a key piece of advice. It's also harder to start networking when you have your proverbial hat in your hand and need something. It's better to start building your professional network before you need something. Your network is also much more than a job search resource.
LinkedIn is a great tool to help you build and connect with others. In the beforetimes (pre-pandemic), I would connect with people on LinkedIn after we had met in person. Now, I proactively connect with industry leaders, people I encounter at professional development meetings I attend via Zoom, or I ask to connect with people who share common interests with me.
I also interact with people on LinkedIn. I post content that highlights my industry knowledge, comment on people's posts, and share posts that resonate with me. Being a good "LinkedIn neighgbor", and building your network before you need to use it for a job search, is a great way to position yourself or future success.
Update Your Resume In Real Time
I was once laid off from a job where I had been for eitght years. When my position was eliminated due to corporate restructuring, putting my resume together again was a challenge since I had years of diverse work experience to document. At that time, I knew details about recent projects, but it was harder for me to piece together all that I had done, and salient details that would help me get hired elsewhere.
Fortunately, and in rather unusual fashion, I was given a couple of months of notice that my job would be ending. That gave me the time to review my calendar, and files, to put together detailed descriptions of what I had done. This helped me put together a master resume. This isn't the final resume that you use to apply for a position. This is the big huge ridiculous document that contains everything you've done ever. From here, you pick and choose details that you'll include in your for real applying-for-a-job resume.
In general, I've become more proactive about recording what I do. While these projects are fresh in my mind, I write down specifics on what I did, who I worked with, outcomes and tangible results. This helps me not only for a someday job search, but it also helps me position myself for additional projects and roles at my current workplace as the company grows and evolves. Keeping a detailed list of projects, responsibilities and skills you were able to use will make resume writing much easier when the time comes.
Learn New Skills
Once upon a time, I was planning on being a high school English teacher. While my current career path focuses on education, suffice it to say that I ended up in a very different place than I originally envisioned. With each role that I have had, my skill set has grown immensely.
When I look at how the world has changed since earned my undergraduate degree, it's amazing. One of my first training jobs was as a software instructor teaching people how to use the big scary Internet. My first few job searches were done relying predominantly on the want ads in the Sunday newspaper. At one company, we were on the bleeding edge of technology by using instructor-led web based training before training by webinar was standard. With advances in technology, the workforce, and worldwide economic factors, things are always changing, and to stay employeable, you need to keep up.
Don't wait until your job's future seems uncertain to start learning. Go to professional meetings. Read website dedicated to your field. Listen to podcasts on topics of interest. Look at job descriptions for emerging positions to see what kinds of skills are in demand. Keep updating your skills so you're not left behind when change happens around you. Be Amazon, not Nokia.
What Do You Think?
What other career advice do you have to share?
Managing Job Anxiety
Recently, I was at a professional development event learning about the finer points of corporate training. During networking time, I talked with a woman who had been previously laid off, then called back to work for the same company (which is rare for my chosen field). What was her biggest concern? In short, she was trying to figure out how to be happy in her new/old position and not constantly worry about the possibility of getting laid off again.
To Worry, or Not to Worry?
Here in the land of having been laid off from various and sundry positions 5 times over the course of my career, I know from being worried about job loss. Granted, the first time I was laid off, an involuntary job loss was outside of my realm of possibility since it had never personally happened to me. After that, though, once I knew it was a thing, there are many times I’ve worried about being laid off. Maybe it was concerns about market performance, or new management, or rumors about reorganization, or any number of other things that caused my anxiety to kick in.
On the flip side, the times I have been laid off, I have just plain not seen it coming. I’ve been busy dealing with my personal life otherwise falling apart, or too busy working on a must-succeed project, or coming back from vacation to realize that apparently, I was not long for those companies. While I do worry from time to time, instead, I now focus on how to proactively position myself for longer-term career success instead.
An Alternative to Worry
Way back when, I had two operating modes when it came to work: “I’m happy with my job” mode and “I need to find a new job” mode. “I’m happy with my job” mode included excelling at my day-job with a side order of inactivity. “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode is when I started to network, look for career opportunities, dust off my resume, highlight my skills, etc. Now I realize that I needed to change from those two to an all new “working professional” mode—which is a both/and way of being. As a working professional, I still excel in my current role, but I also remember to keep my skill set up to date, continue to make ongoing professional connections, and have a career plan B (and up through about J, honestly) just in case I need it. Regardless of my employment status, this mindset serves me well and helps me live my life without focusing on fear.
Learning and Growing
Once upon a time, I planned to be a high school English teacher. While I didn’t end up teaching in a school setting, I use that skill set to help adults who work for businesses learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable them to excel professionally and personally. I’m a lifelong learner, and I literally learn for a living—and help others do the same. I’m always learning new technology, reading up adult education theory, and gaining insights from those around me. In addition to having a formal background in education, I also attend regular professional development meetings, and I constantly read in and outside of my field. I make sure I can speak intelligently about trends in business, education, and beyond. Staying current and continuing to learn and grow keeps me doing well in my current position and future ready. In an ever-changing world, continued professional growth is the best way to manage whatever happens next.
Building (and Tending) My Professional Network
People talk a lot about “networking.” Too often, I think networking is depicted as a superficial act that involves shaking a lot of hands at a nametag laden event where people dread the next day’s “would you like to buy something from me” calls. For me, as an introvert, I approach networking differently. My goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships with people. These relationships are an opportunity to share information, help one another out, and feel more connected.
I keep track of my network using LinkedIn. In the beforetimes (aka pre-pandemic), I would typically meet people in person first, then connect with them via LinkedIn. Now, after I interact with someone via webinar (at a professional development meeting or after we work together for the firs time), I add them to my LinkedIn network. I've also taken a more proactive stance on online networking out of sheer necessity. Regardless of how that connection comes into my life, from there, I’m happy to help a friend of theirs look for a new job, or talk with one of my connections about how they might want design their technical certification program, or answer a question about a job applicant who is a former coworker of mine. I expect to help people in my professional network out, and know that they will be willing to do the same.
Regardless of the role that I’m in, and even if it seems to be going well, I always have a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan, and then a couple more backup plans after those. After 5 layoffs, and the unique challenges of each, I have a broad sense of the types of situations (like figuring out the health care exchange and determining when it made sense to do short-term contract work) I may need to mitigate. This means being ready to manage possible adversity or taking advantage of opportunities as they become available.
In addition to being proactive with my network, some of the things I’ve thought through have made me better equipped for issues as they arise. Here are a few of the things I’ve contemplated:
What Do You Think?
How do you manage career anxiety? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Brenda is a dynamic training & development leader & innovative learning experience designer.