From "To Do" to "To Done"
Like many adults, I have what feels like a never-ending to-do list. No matter how much progress I make, I often dismiss what I have accomplished because I'm too busy focusing on all of the things I haven't done.
A couple of years ago, I had a boss who encouraged me to make a success list on a weekly basis. This was a great way for me to remind myself that I am making progress--even if it doesn't always feel like it's the case. In addition to my weekly success list, I decided to take personal inventory and do a quick list for the past year.
This Year's Success List
1. Added daily yoga to my wellness routine.
2. Applied for 21 jobs and had 12 interviews.
3. Bought running shoes I absolutely love and ran my first 5k.
4. Celebrated my 10-year anniversary with my husband.
5. Connected with over 100 new colleagues on LinkedIn.
6. Cut my daily commute time by 1 hour per day.
7. Decided to quit doing roller derby for a while to focus on being a roller derby mom.
8. Didn’t totally freak out when my daughter was on a two-week trip to Asia with a school affiliated group.
9. Enrolled my daughter a drivers ed class and started my role as a driving coach.
10. Found an awesome new chiropractor.
11. Got a new FitBit and finished 3 StepBet challenges.
12. Got our cat, Zippy, through ear surgery. (Now she has one ear hole, but two cosmetic ears).
13. Learned how to slow down on hills in inline skates. (Next year I hope to have a little more style in my slowing down.)
14. Logged over 80 gym visits.
15. Outlined a book on job searching and job transition.
16. Published 18 blog articles.
17. Ran over 70 miles and inline skated over 250 miles on outdoor trails.
18. Saw “Die Hard”, “They Live”, and “When Harry Met Sally” at the Parkway Theatre.
19. Skated my first inline 10K event and didn’t die, then skated my first inline marathon and finished in under 3 hours.
20. Started a great new job as the Director of Training at a software company.
21. Survived my second position elimination in 2 years and found a great new job in less than 2 months.
22. Tried spinning and enjoyed it.
23. Vacationed in New Orleans.
24. Watched all the episodes of Will and Grace and Friday Night Lights.
25. Wrote my very first knitting pattern.
What About You?
What is on your success list for this past year? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Most people in the business world know that social media can be a powerful tool to help get the word out. Unfortunately, while many people understand the value in the abstract, often they don’t really know why it makes sense, or how to go about doing it at all, much less doing it well. As someone who has worked with a variety of independent businesspeople (including artists, musicians, self-defense trainers, real estate agents, and more), I have learned a few key strategies for leveraging social media well.
Two Common Mistakes
While many small businesspeople are on board for using social media in the abstract, I have noticed that many people make two common mistakes. For one, people have no plan at all. Maybe they go so far as to create bare bones accounts on some combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and then stop. They may not even have a picture to use, or be sure how to describe who they are. In short, they start and quickly fizzle out because they aren’t sure what to do next. For those that manage to complete their account profiles, they typically err in a different direction. After they have their accounts, and even follow a few people, they might make posting after posting that say nothing more than “buy my stuff.” I’m not even sure which one is worse. Both result in a social media profile done poorly that won’t have the desired result.
According to the Internet (and, yes, the article link is included below), 79% of US adults have at least one social media profile, meaning there are approximately 243.6 million social media users. That’s a whole lot of people who businesses can access in between pictures of friends’ kids and live tweeting their favorite television show. Not only are those people available, but social media accounts are free to open and use with the opportunity to pay to further boost messages and connect with more people. Social media use can help humanize your brand and build brand awareness, which can result in a larger customer base—which can lead to more revenue from views, sales closed, and return business.
Doing Social Media Well
So how does one go about doing social media well? For one, you have to have something to say—and that something can not just be “buy my stuff.” We’re building a brand here. So who are you and what do you want to say to who? How do you want to be perceived? What do you stand for? How do you help people? What kind of content might interest the people that you’re trying to reach? Who are those people? Thinking through those core questions can help you figure out what it is you want to say. Figuring out your core message is mission critical to making social media work for you.
What To Say
While “buy my stuff” can be one of the types of messages shared, ideally, that’s only 10% of what you’re saying. So what else should you be talking about? Here are a few ideas that I’ve used while promoting the Mellow Fury Etsy shop. These tie into the knit hats I make and sell, and my best sellers are sci-fi or comic book themed.
Education: share information in your area(s) of expertise.
Entertainment: Include something fun or funny.
Humanize: showcase the person behind the brand.
Customers: showing satisfied, happy customers.
Supporting Others: share the love.
Buy My Stuff: showcase what you sell in a non-obnoxious way.
What Do You Think?
What are your thoughts on using social media well to promote your small business? Include your thoughts in the comments.
My Life in the Learning Business
I have always worked in corporate training, and I have a penchant (a gift, perhaps) for working for organizations that reorganize, get bought out, or otherwise restructure. For a lot of companies, when times get tight and push comes to shove, learning and development positions are categorized as a “nice to have”, not a “need to have”. Consequently, I know my way around a layoff, and I’ve had to become adept at all things job search as to keep my expensive habits of eating and living indoors.
Recently, for the fifth time in my career, I found myself unexpectedly in a position where I needed to change jobs. The last time around, my position was unexpectedly eliminated on the day I returned from vacation. That was about two years ago, and I was not expecting to have to do this again quite so soon. However, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. I also know that of all the times I worried about an impending layoff, I have never seen it coming when I was directly impacted. Consequently, I’ve learned to try to be successful in whatever professional position I have, while also knowing that I need to be to seek out an alternate position given the ever-changing climate of business.
My Job Search by the Numbers
In a previous blog article, entitled “Job Search Insights by the Numbers”, I listed the statistics associated with my last job search. This time around, things moved a bit more quickly than I initially expected. Keep in mind, too, that about half of the jobs for which I applied have not responded. In their defense, I was on and off the market pretty quickly. It’ll be interesting to see who I hear back from eventually. With that, here’s how this job search shaped up:
Differences from Previous Job Searches
My last job search lasted 147 days. That's right. It was exactly 100 days longer. So what were the differences between then and now? What magic did I use to so quickly land a great new position?
Time of Year
Fortunately (as I look at the bright side), I knew I needed to make a change in late September. I’ve found that being unemployed over the holidays nearly guarantees about an extra month or two of job searching (or more likely, waiting). In fact, my longest two job searches included the holiday season, lasting 180 and 147 days respectively. The best advice that I have is to take some time off from job searching over the holidays. This time around, when I estimated the possible length of my period of unemployment, I surmised that I would either secure a new position before Thanksgiving or I’d most likely be waiting to start a new role until February or March of next year. Getting a jump start, even by a couple of weeks, made a big difference.
During layoffs one and two, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin. While I love Madison as a city, as someone whose chosen profession is corporate training, I knew that I needed to move to a larger job market or consider doing something else for a living. In the middle of my second big period of unemployment, I started targeting companies in Minneapolis. Even with the challenge of relocating (and managing all of the other areas of my life that were in transition right then), finding a new job took under five months. Being in the greater Twin Cities area, even with me being more selective on where to apply, I still had a lot of options. This gave me a better chance of one of the positions I applied for moving me along to the interview stage. It also made it easier for me to manage my job search related anxiety by applying for additional positions each time I was concerned about not hearing back from one potential employer.
I started using LinkedIn seriously in 2006. Since then, I’ve connected with coworkers, members of professional development organizations, colleagues with whom I’ve interacted, and pretty much anyone who I encountered and found interesting. I stay active on social media sharing useful content and attend industry meetings on a regular basis. Having this robust professional network and assisting individuals in my network when they are job searching or exploring new fields of interest, has helped me immensely. When encountering a position that interested me, I immediately looked to my network to see who might be able to put in a good word for me and help me get pulled out of the initial pile of candidates. I have also had more than one “informal interview” with a possible referer so they feel comfortable recommending me for a position. Since people are putting their reputations on the line, I don’t take their assistance for granted.
I’m at the point in my career where I know what kinds of jobs interest me. I have good formal education, recent job titles that are well aligned with roles for which I’m applying, and I’ve stayed current on the industry. While having someone refer me for a position helps, I know that I still need to be a well-qualified candidate. Those qualifications are what help me get from a courtesy phone interview to being considered a viable candidate for an open role.
Pure Dumb Luck
There is a certain amount of planet alignment that happens whenever something good manages to actually happen. In this case, a company in a field that interests me (software) had an opening for which I was qualified, and I had a former coworker who was willing to refer me for the position. The quotes “The harder I work, the luckier I get” comes to mind as does “luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” Sometimes, timing is everything.
What Do You Think?
What are your tried and true job search strategies and secrets to success? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Earlier this year, when talking with a friend about her job search plans, I mentioned the idea of a “personal brand.” She asked me what I meant by that, which caused me to do a little soul searching. I realized I had bought into the idea of the value of having a strong personal brand while working with mortgage loan officers and real estate agents—two audiences who are all about getting their face out there to attract business. I took a step back and started thinking about how to better articulate the why and how of a personal brand.
Role of a Brand
As a consumer, a brand is a shortcut that helps me make a buying decision. If I want a good cup of coffee in an unfamiliar city, I find a Starbucks. If I need to buy a book, I typically go to Amazon, and for an audio book, I’ll visit Audible. If I want durable shoes for outdoor activities, I’m looking for a pair of Keens. There are also brands that are so prominent, they have become part of our lexicon. People Google instead of doing an online search, use Kleenex rather than tissue, and pick the version of Coke they want at a restaurant. Those brands mean something whether it’s quality, range of items available, or a predictable experience. Brands help us jump to a quicker answer instead of having to weigh multiple options for every single buying decision we make.
A Personal Brand
A personal brand is a similar idea. Instead of branding a product, though, it’s intended to help shortcut the decision-making process to promote someone’s credibility or value. When I think of the epitome of a personal brand, I think Oprah. Oprah tells us what pop health gurus to listen to, what books to read, who to vote for and more. Oprah has a television network, and a magazine and an empire. Everyone knows who Oprah is and what she’s all about. This is personal branding at its finest.
For the rest of us non-Oprah's, we also have a personal brand. When people meet one another in-person, oftentimes, we check out one another's online presences. In the work world, it's usually LinkedIn and potentially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (among others). Whether you're looking for a job, or connecting with a professional colleague, having an online presence is nearly a given. Make sure that presence is one you want people to be aware of (because they'll find it one way or another) and that it positions you in a positive light.
My Personal Brand
My personal branding aspirations are not at the level of Oprah. (My television network and magazine are on hold for now.) For me, my personal brand is showcasing my skills as a trusted professional in the learning and development space. I want to be known for sharing industry related information on adult education, conveying lessons learned, and communicating my personal insights. My goal is to position myself as a real life human with day to day challenges who is also someone you’d trust (or hire) when it comes to helping adults learn information to enable them to succeed.
I started to pay attention to my personal brand when I realized I wanted to start sharing my insights in blog entries. For me, a personal brand was an embodiment of what I wanted my blog to be about. In short, my blog is my way of sharing my learnings with others who could benefit from my trials and tribulations. Using the colors in my professional headshot and a fun photo of coffee, my personal brand was born.
When I think of what my brand includes, I think first of how I present myself online as well as in print. For me, that means I have a professional social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. On each site, I used BrendaLearns as my username, my professional photo as my avatar, and a consistent description on each site. I also have a background picture on my social media sites that showcases the same color scheme (shades of red and gray). In addition, this color scheme is included on my blog at (you guessed it) www.BrendaLearns.com. On my resume, I include a red line on the left side, which continues to emphasize my personal brand. In addition, my business cards feature the same color scheme and background image to keep my personal branding consistent.
Have Something to Say
My focus of my blog is sharing my key learnings with others. It’s about helping others navigate life’s trials and tribulations by enabling them to benefit from some of the things I’ve either researched or learned through experience. Whether it’s helping people think through personal finance questions, figure out how to navigate a job loss, train for an inline skating marathon, or just helping people learn in general, I am wired to want to help people learn and grow. I want to share information in a way that is understandable, and even fun.
Likewise, that same spirit is embodied in my social media presence, I want the world to associate my personal brand with someone who is knowledgeable and helpful. This is why I share articles on helping adults learn, leading strong teams of high-performing (and happy) individuals, and other business insights. I also share articles and posts that show that I’m human, too. I have 2 cats (Zippy and Meathook), a daughter who is into roller derby and learning to drive, a strong interest in inline skating, and a love of quotes that are at once funny and thought provoking. Without having something to say, and getting comfortable being human in front of others, having a personal brand is not worth much.
What Do You Think?
What do you think about personal branding in general and the value of having a personal brand? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Feeling Behind? This Can Help.
I work at a fast-paced software company that is growing like crazy. That means that no matter how much I accomplish, there are always things left undone, and I feel like I should be able to figure out how to do more. In a meeting with my manager, where I shared this frustration, she told me that needed to remind myself of what I DID get done. She challenged me to take time each week to list out my successes. I've been doing that for about a month now, and it'a amazing what a difference it makes. Instead of focusing on the negatives, taking a moment to appreciate, and be grateful, for all the things I've accomplished really helped.
Applying Work to the Rest of Life
While completing this exercise for my job, I also included a few successes from life in my list. I quickly realized that, as at work, I get way more life things done than I realize. I decided to go bigger with my list. At this time of year--when we so often focus on all of the things we're going to totally change in our lives--I decided to take stock of what all I accomplished this year first. Here are 50 things I did this year.
26. Joined a gym.
27. Made my first smoothie in my very own smoothie maker.
28. Painted the living room walls red and gray (again, mostly my lovely husband).
29. Planned an upcoming vacation to New Orleans.
30. Read 13 audiobooks.
31. Rode the train from Duluth, MN to Two Harbors, MN.
32. Rolled over my old retirement account.
33. Roller skated at US Bank Stadium for the first time.
34. Saved money for retirement in a 401(k) and Roth 401(k).
35. Saw "Singing in the Rain" at the Heights Theater.
36. Shared my employment success story with the White Box Club.
37, Shopped for and bought my first inline skates.
38. Signed up for my first inline marathon.
39. Started a new job as a training department manager at a growing SaaS software start-up.
40. Stood in two states at once – Iowa and Nebraska.
41. Switched banks.
42. Took a foam roller class.
43. Traveled to 13 US states.
44. Treated myself to monthly massages.
45. Visited my mom and had mother/daughter/granddaughter holiday lefse making day.
46. Walked along the beach and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
47. Watched "Lethal Weapon" at the Parkway Theatre.
48. Went to the gym at least eight times a month from April through December.
49. Won two Step Bets to and increased my overall activity level.
50. Worked my first learning and development contracting gig.
Whoa. I did accomplish a few things. I love that I had milestones including health, adventures, and garden-variety adulting. Seeing this list helped me remind myself of the amazing things I can do. Taking a moment to celebrate, and be grateful for, these successes has me excited to plan for next year's adventures!
What Do You Think?
What did you accomplish this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
'Tis The Season
I’ve been laid off 4 times, twice in the fall. In fact, last year at this time, I was “in transition” searching for a new opportunity. Being in job transition is rough. Being in job transition during the holidays—especially the week before Christmas through the new year—is downright futile.
I’ve read a ton of articles touting the benefits of job searching during the holidays--and I mean a lot, a lot of them. Reasons to keep going abound. No one else will be applying! You’ll get a leg up on other applicants! Tons of people are trying to fill positions before year's end! In spite of the articles I read that encouraged me to persevere, in retrospect, I would have ignored that advice and deferred to my own best judgement.
I look at the sheer number of articles on self-care during the holiday season. If the holiday season is hard all by itself, add the stress of unemployment and there are a whole ton of reasons to be extra sure to take care of yourself.
My Best Holiday Job Seeking Advice
Here’s the best advice I didn’t take: take time off from your job search during the holidays.
The Challenge of Applying for Jobs in December
Even in a fast-moving job market with ridiculously low unemployment, it takes a bit to find a job. Just given the linearity of time, there will be a gap between when you apply, interview, and get an offer you’d like to take. This process can feel like it takes an eternity when people at these potential employers are focused on working. During December, with people taking time off for all things holiday, finding gainful employment moves even more slowly. Take a break and let yourself move more slowly, and deliberately, too.
During my last job transition, which lasted 5 months, the most frustrating period was a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving until the end of the year, the last two weeks of December were the absolute worst. Aside from the darkness and winter weather, the sheer sucking void of job prospects hit me hard. In short, nothing came from my job searching at that time. I was either submitting applications to jobs that no one was going to pay much attention to for a couple of weeks, following up with employers who had other priorities, or bothering former colleagues for recommendations when they were in the throws of Christmas programs and family get-togethers. The job search picked up again the second week in January when people had their heads back in the game at work.
Take Time for Self Care
My advice to you as a job seeker? Take a holiday break. Go do things you’d like to do when you’re gainfully employed, but that are harder to find time to do. Go to a noon yoga class. Get together with friends for lunch. Read a novel with no obvious professional development benefit. Go to a matinee. Visit a museum. Walk around the mall on a weekday Take some time for you. Take a break from pounding pavement on your job search and just breathe. You’ll feel better for taking some time for you, and for not feeling like you’re working hard and getting few results.
Just like we all need vacation time to recuperate from our day jobs and be able to do good work, we also need to take a break from a job search so we can have the mental space to regroup. Take a couple of weeks off—like the week before and the week after Christmas—and reset. You’re future self will thank you for this act of self care.
What Do You Think?
What has your experience been applying for jobs in December? Share your insights in the comments.
Business Travel: Perception vs. Reality
In movies and TV shows, business people are always jet setting off to exciting locations to do fabulous things. As with most other details in movies (the size of a newborn baby right after delivery, how close tourist spots are to one another in a big city, how windshields in cars actually break), this is not so much how business travel really goes.
It’s not glamorous outfits, first class flights, and limo rides to fabulous locations. I’ve found that it’s a lot more rushing around trying to make flights, hurriedly preparing to do a presentation, trying to find all the places you’re supposed to be, figuring out where and when to fit in a meal, and finding moments of joy in the midst of the hurry and chaos.
Here are a few key details on the realities of my most recent business trip.
My Business Trip Statistics
Time Breakdown by Activity
Counting All the Things
My Trip in Pictures
Here are my most exciting pictures from this trip. Go ahead, folks. Drink in the glamour.
What do you think?
What has your typical work travel experience looked like? Add your thoughts in the comments.
From Job Applicant to Hiring Manager
Six months ago, I was in transition and searching for the next great position in my career. Now, I'm at a great company, in a job I love, and I'm in the process of hiring two new employees to be a part of the team I'm creating.
Having researched resume format and tweaked my resume again and again, and then sifting through the pile of resumes of people possibly interested in working for me, I have gained new insights into how to make your resume most effective.
Your Resume Goals
First, let's talk about what success looks like. In it's most simple form, the goal of your resume is to get you a job. However, let's break that down a bit and look at the first mini-goal in that whole process--getting a recruiter or hiring manager to want to get in contact with you to find out more. Let's focus on how you get to that critical first step.
The Initial Sorting: Yes, No or Maybe
As a hiring manager, I really want to hire someone amazing. Each time I see that I've received a new application, I'm little kid excited that this might be just the right person to round out the team and do the work that I need done. On that initial scan, I'm deciding which camp you fall into.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
Sweet. They look like a great candidate! Let's contact them immediately to find out more!
No. Just no.
Ugh. Work experience doesn't seem related to this role. Long, rambly resume. No thanks.
I'm just not sure.
Not great, but may be worth exploring--or maybe not. I'm going to have to think about this.
Questions Your Resume Needs to Answer
As a hiring manager (or recruiter) who scans every resume submitted for the two positions for which I am hiring, I am looking for answers for the following critical hiring questions. Answering yes to most, if not all, of these questions, gets you into the "yes" pile.
Question 1: Does this person have the skills needed to do this job?
Does their work experience and education line up with what is needed for the position? Do they have the technical ability and interpersonal skills to succeed? Have the job responsibilities they have had previously positioned them well for what is required of this position? Did they paraphrase the job description and help connect the dots between their qualifications and the available position?
Question 2: Does this person actually want this job? Or are they looking for any old job?
Is the job application personalized at all? Do they look like they are mass-applying for jobs, or like they actually want this position with this organization? Does their summary of what they are looking for match what the job is? Does this position seem like a logical step from their current position? If not, did they explain that this makes sense for them? (Like emphasizing how their background in manufacturing has prepared them for this job in your industry?) Do they live in the city where the job is, or mention that they plan to move? Do they emphasize how their skills will help them do the job? Do they mention wanting to work for a company like yours or doing a job like the one that is open? Is this job really their thing?
Question 3: If they took the job, would they be successful?
Does the content of their resume or summary align with what the open job requires? Are things like the level of responsibility, travel percentages, expectations for remote work or managing or not managing people what they want to do? If they have worked at larger companies with a slower pace, will the fast-pace of a start-up energize or overwhelm them? Can they be self-directed, or follow directions, as will be dictated by the role? Does this fit in with their career trajectory? Are they taking a job that isn't really ideal for them? If so, are they going to leave right away to take the job that is a better fit? Does the improvement in job responsibilities, work culture, industry or opportunity create an environment that they will really enjoy? Have they addressed any of these possible concerns in their resume or cover letter?
Getting to the "Yes" Pile
While there is no magic formula to create the perfect resume for every situation, here area few resume best practices that can help you get to the "yes" pile. Here are a few characteristics of what I think "good" looks like:
Tip 1: Include a summary front and center.
Whether you call it a "professional highlights", "summary of qualifications" or something else, this section is the Cliff Notes for the rest of your resume. This targeted, concise summary should be tailored to the job. As a resume screener, this helps me know if I should bother to keep reading. For me, not having this quick paragraph really hurts your chances of moving on. It's like having a long, dry user manual handed to you with no table of contents. Give me a your quick elevator speech on what you bring to the table so I can see if the book is worth continuing to read. Address those critical questions so I know it's worth the time to connect with you personally.
Tip 2: Keep the length to two pages.
I have seen far too many 3 page and up resumes. One key skill I'm looking for is the ability to summarize and prioritize. Skip your street address, references, and information about the high school you attended. Get rid of the extras that add length, but not value. Your resume, which may need to cover 5-30 years of relevant work experience, is one way you can demonstrate your ability to discern and highlight the most important points.
Tip 3: Be clear, specific, and precise.
Write in coherent bulleted points or sentences. Include relevant industry keywords without overusing jargon to try to impress. I'm hiring educators who need to be able to take a complex topic (everything relevant you've ever done) and show me the parts that will be most directly related to the job. This includes formatting. Make sure I can, at a glance, tell your job titles from the company names from your job responsibilities. Use white space to make it readable. Show me that you can make even complex content easy to navigate.
What Do You Think?
What other tips do you have for getting your resume into the "yes" pile? Include details in the comments.
Standing on the Corner, Waiting for a Bus
When I moved to Minneapolis, I started working downtown and realized that many people opted to take public transportation rather than driving. A few years later, I also moved not far from the light rail train, so for a solid decade, I took the morning train, worked from 9-5 and then I took the train back home again. As job possibilities presented themselves, one of my ongoing requirements was being able to continue my easy train commute.
On a Downtown Train
After my position was eliminated at the end of last year, I started a new job, and for the first time in 12 years, I am driving daily to and from work. I was reticent to make this change, but I also received an offer for a job that was a perfect fit for me, so driving to and from work seemed a small price to pay for a great career opportunity. The other day, I took the train downtown to meet a friend for coffee. It reminded me of the good, the bad, and the ugly about commuting to work my train.
Why I Usually Loved My Train Commute
For me, taking the train was quicker, safer, cheaper, easier and enabled me to have a smaller carbon footprint. What’s not to love?
Why I Occasionally Disliked My Train Commute
Lower cost? Easier? What's not to like? Well, there are a few things...
What Do You Think?
What are the good and bad parts of commuting to and from work using public transportation? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Adulting is Hard
One of my goals as a parent is to help prepare my now teenage daughter to be a functional adult who makes good decisions and is happy and healthy. Here are my top 5 focus areas to position her for adulting success.
Tip 1: Plan ahead to avoid creating emergencies.
Tip 2: Take control of your personal safety and security.
Tip 3: Have positive interactions and build healthy relationships.
Tip 4: Attend to your overall health and well-being.
Tip 5: Commit to personal growth and positive change.
What do you think?
What are your top pieces of adulting-related advice? Include your thoughts in the comments.
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, health advocate, & skating nerd.