What Does It Take for You to Make a Change?

Do you have trouble getting yourself to adopt a new habit even when you know it is good for you? You are told you need to stop smoking, but even though you have the best intentions you cannot carry through. You want to stay on a weight loss program or make it a habit to exercise every other day, but it just isn’t happening. You want to change your career and you have worn out your friends and family complaining about it, but you cannot take the steps you need to take. If creating new habits is a problem for you, you have a lot of company.

In her new book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin, a former law clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, puts the spotlight on personal habit change and identifies four very distinct groups of people who have innately different approaches to change. Her categories can help people understand themselves better, which could lead them to finally make the habit changes they want to make.

people in groupsRubin says there are four basic types of people: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Upholders respond to outer or inner expectations. They can give themselves an order and they will carry through. If an order comes from an external source, they can also carry through. Questioners question expectations. They will only carry through if they adopt the order and internalize it, and make it their own. Once they do adopt it, they will carry through. Obligers can meet outer expectations but have trouble with inner expectations. This means that if the directive comes from a teacher or a boss or a coach, they will do it. But if the expectation is one they set for themselves, they struggle with it. Rubin speculates that Obligers are by far the largest group of people out there, which explains why so many people have difficulty changing their habits. When it comes to the Rebels, change that is ordered or even suggested by others triggers their opposition. The more they are told to do something, the more they resist. Rebels will fight changes they should make, or reject helpful suggestions.

I often counsel people who have longed to change their careers but have not made it happen. Part of the problem is that they do not know how to identify the right career direction. When career changers come to work with me, we first figure out the right direction. We identify the building blocks of their personality (what they need to have and need to avoid in their careers to be happy) and match that with current or potential skills and market need to see where they could move their careers to become happier in their professional lives. The process works well to identify the career direction, but then the person has to be able to follow through and take steps to make the necessary changes in his or her life. I can provide information and support, but I cannot make anyone change.

Rubin’s concepts are helpful to me as a career coach. I have worked with some people who are Rebels, others who are Questioners, some Upholders, and many more Obligers. Before learning these ideas I did not have a name for the problem that I saw being enacted by many people who earnestly wanted career transitions but could not follow through to make the necessary changes to achieve their goals. Now I realize that Obligers need more clear directives from me.

But I also believe that once people recognize their habit tendency group, they’ll able to work more effectively to make change happen. For example, Obligers can create change if they give themselves homework and write down directives as though the directives were coming from an external source. I know this is possible, because I am an Obliger who has turned into an Upholder. I’ve taught myself to follow my own orders by assigning them to myself as though they were homework. If you know you are a Questioner, you might shorten the time you question because you understand this is a way you put off change. Rebels who know they are rebels might be able to talk themselves into being more open-minded if they understand how valuable that attitude shift could be.

Do you recognize yourself? What is keeping you from making the changes you want to make in your life? What will you do to change the way you think about meeting expectations?

Tips for Slam Dunking Your Interview

Most people feel nervous before having a formal interview, but if you prepare using the following tips, you will have the best interview possible and you will know that you did the best you could to get the job you want.

interviewIt’s All About Reassurance

Even though you might feel nervous and worried, your interviewer is also feeling nervous and worried. Think about that. What if you are hired on their recommendation and you turn out to have problems? What if you do not fit in with the people who are already working there? What if you don’t have the skills to do the job? Employers are worried too. It is your job in the interview to help the potential employer feel reassured about your abilities and your skills as well as your personality. How can you do this most effectively? Memorize this question: “What is your idea of the perfect candidate for this job?” Ask that question in your interview at the earliest possible time. Then, for the rest of the interview, you can use that list of traits as your road map to help the employer understand how you are what they are looking for. It’s your job to reassure the employer throughout the interview that you have what it takes to do this job.

Know Yourself

You need to know enough to convey who you are and what you are looking for in your career and in your job. It is important to be able to articulate your goals. The employer wants to know that the goals of the workplace align with your goals for your career. They usually want you to stay on the job, especially if they are going to invest in training you. Even if you are using a temp agency that will send you out to do contract work, they want to know that this arrangement satisfies your career goals.

Use Anecdotes to Reassure and Convince

When lawyers prepare for trial, they know they need to have compelling evidence for the jury. The same is true for your interview. In an interview, the compelling evidence is anecdotal. Stories about what you have done in previous jobs, how you have handled difficult situations, and how you have thought through problems and came up with solutions are very helpful in convincing the listener that you are what you say you are. Just as juries love to see and hear the evidence, interviewers want to learn about you through the stories you tell them about your past experiences on the job. Be ready with those stories. They help prove you are what you say you are.

Be Ready to Advocate for Your Candidacy

At some point in the interview you will be asked “Why should we hire you over the competition?” or something similar to that. You want to prep the answer to that question before you go to the interview because it is a wonderful opportunity to advocate for yourself. Most people make the mistake of answering that question with generalizations about themselves. “I am a hard worker.” “I have experience in this field.” Without more, those are not convincing statements because they are unsupported. You need to add the anecdotal evidence that proves your claims. And if you can, you want to put the “cherry on the top” of that advocacy by relating the things that other people have said about you. This shows that what you said is verified by others. Or put the “cherry on top” by using numbers to prove your campaign was successful, or that you truly do have the extensive experience you say you do.

Be the Expert on You

Know everything about your background, including the situations or experiences you have dealt with in the past. In the throes of the interview, some people can lose their train of thought. Carefully review everything on your resume so that you can speak confidently on all the topics that you have researched in the past that appear on your resume, the numbers of campaigns you have done, the names of the people you worked with on the sales team, or the amounts you raised for the non-profit you helped. Know the dates and the progression of your career, and explain how each move you made was part of the plan you have for your development. Okay, I know that sometimes the plan you start with in your career changes over time. That’s fine. Just help the employer understand that evolution. The killer is when you jump from one thing to another or drift into and out of jobs without a sense of purpose. Employers get nervous about that. Come to think of it, you should be nervous about that too.

Have Smart Questions to Ask

Employers know that everyone has looked at their website. You don’t get points for doing that. But if you have dug more deeply in your research, and especially if you can say why you really want to work with this particular company, that makes employers feel good. It’s kind of like dating and marriage. An employer wants to know why you like them enough to want to get hitched. And just like your future partner, the employer wants to know that you really know them well. So do your homework. Read up on the people and the company using Google, LinkedIn, articles in trade magazines, and other sources of information, like people who used to work there. Then, you can be ready with questions that show you know.

Look Like You Fit In Already

If the workplace is conservative, dress conservatively for the interview. If the workplace is casual, don’t dress for corporate America because that can be a turn off. If you do not know what to wear, check out their website to see if there are images on the website that give you a clue. Talk with people who work there or used to work there using LinkedIn. If you are desperate, just go stand outside the workplace for a few minutes one day to see what people look like who go in and out.

Check Out the Culture Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

This is important. You really want to know that you want to work at this place. You want to know that the people you will work with, especially your boss, do not fall into the crazy category: screamer, micromanager, belittler, mean girl/guy. Check this out by finding people using LinkedIn who used to work there and calling them up (do not do this online) to get a confidential report on what it’s like to work at this place. People will share the unvarnished truth about their workplace if you assure them it is confidential and you really mean it.

Tips for Jump-starting Casual Conversations

I was raised in a family that did not teach me “small talk.” In fact my Dad thought the whole idea of small talk was a waste of time. He was an electrical engineer and a physics professor, and in the 1970s he developed some of the underlying patents for the flat panel TVs that are everywhere now. In the course of his career he went from jobs at Raytheon and Zenith to his own business. When he developed his own business he needed to interact with people at conferences and in business meetings, and he needed to be able to start up and develop a connection with other people. Knowing how to make small talk can help with that. Dad finally realized that small talk was worth learning about because it’s a skill you need for business development.

people talkingWhen I counsel clients who are nervous or shy and who are going to a conference, I tell them to do a little preparation and also to keep some ideas in mind that can make casual conversation a lot easier.

Get Smart

Before you go to a conference, make a conscious effort to become more knowledgeable about trending topics in your industry as well as sports, world news, and celebrity news. If you have information, ideas, and opinions about issues that are likely to be talked about, you can contribute to the conversation.

Use the Spanish Treasure Chest Idea

Like a treasure chest lying at the bottom of the sea next to a Spanish galleon, you have no idea what’s inside until you open it. Sure, it could be dead fish or sand in there but it might also be doubloons and treasure. You cannot tell until you get the box open. Just like a Spanish treasure chest, everyone you meet is a black box of possibility. You have no idea who this person is or who this person knows or what this person might know about that could make your life better. If you take the attitude that each and every new person you meet might be treasure, you have the right mindset to go to a conference! Your mindset matters a lot. If you are open and interested in other people, it is far more likely that you will have a good experience at a meet and greet. Your body language will convey positivity and people really resonate with that vibe.

Have a Plan

One of the hardest parts of a conference is that first approach, where you come into a room and do not know anyone. And there is always that group of people knotted together who know each other and are talking in an animated way. Most people dread that experience! And some of my shy clients who encounter a tight-knit group of people talking together have actually fled the meeting and retreated to the safety of their hotel rooms. But if you have a plan you can deal with this. As you approach the group, look for a person who is more on the outskirts. Walk up to that person and extend your hand. No one will not shake your hand. Introduce yourself and the other person will do the same.

Have Some “Go To” Questions

You want to have questions that are in your toolbox. These are open-ended questions to ask other people that help you to jump start a casual conversation. People like to talk about themselves and give advice, so many of the questions I recommend are ones that elicit that kind of response. Here are some for your toolbox:

“Is this the first time you have come to this conference?”

“How are you enjoying the conference?”

“Have you heard any good speakers so far?”

“Do you have any ideas about which of the break-out sessions will be good?”

“Where do you work?”

“What do you do?”

“Are you here with a group? Which one?”

Once you are into a conversation, ask simple open-ended follow up questions. Open-ended questions are ones that invite the speaker to say more, describe more, advise, or educate you about something. Ask about the person’s own educational and work background and what they do at their job. Ask about whether there is a good restaurant to go to for dinner or breakfast. Ask about a sightseeing tour that participants can take, and if they’ve taken the tour and how did they like it.

Imagine you are a journalist. It is your job to find out about this person and this event by asking questions so that you can write your story.

Give Back

Once you have a conversation going with someone, try to think of ways that you can make this person’s life better. Gifts of information, advice, support, and connection with other people are ways to deepen the friendship you have begun. A gift of information could be something as simple as providing a link to an article that could be useful based on the conversation you have been having, or information about a good restaurant or nearby ice cream shop. Advice that you can provide can be a gift (“If you are looking for conference room “C” I can tell you where it is. It’s hard to find!”). Being supportive of someone is a gift (“Oh no, the airlines lost your bag and that’s why you are waiting here by the front desk? That’s so frustrating!”). And connecting people who can benefit from that introduction is another great way to be generous. (“I just met someone in your niche and she is terrific. Do you know—-? I think the two of you will really enjoy getting to know each other. I’ll contact her to see if she is open to getting together for coffee if you have time for that.”) Always give the person an out if he or she might not want to make that connection happen.

Know How to Disengage

Another problem people encounter at meet and greet events is how to leave a conversation and move to another one. One good way to do it is to say, “I’ve had a wonderful time talking with you. I am so glad we had the chance to meet! Here is my card. Do you have one too? I don’t want to take up all your time talking with me even though it has been a lot of fun. Maybe I will see you at that break-out session tomorrow.” Then move away, find the next person you want to meet and put out your hand.

Many of my nervous clients are able to enjoy meeting people instead of dreading it when they use these basic concepts to engage in casual conversation.

Casual Conversation – Why You Need that Skill

Are we losing the ability to have spontaneous conversations in a world where emailing and texting are quickly becoming the norm? We call each other on the phone far less than we used to and we use digital communication far more. Sherry Turkle sounds the alarm in her book, Alone Together.

Turkle, a social psychologist at MIT, tells us that younger people who text routinely are getting used to being able to plan what they say before they “say” it in a text message. This is affecting the way they process their thoughts and use their brains. When it comes to spontaneous conversation, there is less of an opportunity to practice. As a result, these mental/ brain skills are at risk of declining or possibly atrophying.

women chattingAs a career counselor and executive coach, I am concerned about this trend. Not only is it a problem for people in terms of their abilities to network effectively, the ability to engage in casual and spontaneous conversation matters when it comes to interviewing for a job, communicating effectively on the job, and developing business. Let’s face it, you need to be able to talk with people if you want to land a job and do well in your professional life.

When people look for jobs they need to have the courage to connect using a variety of platforms that include phone calls, email, in-person and interpersonal meetings. They need to understand how to enter a roomful of people and find a way to connect with others. They need to know how to help other people feel comfortable in their presence. So much opportunity in professional life is generated by in-person meetings that the job seeker who is too nervous to meet in person is going to severely limit her chances to learn important information that could open the door to the next job. If a professional is unable to create that valuable new relationship with a central person in the industry, she is less likely to be able to develop business. If he lacks social skills, he will not be able to locate the supportive donor for a nonprofit or be an effective project manager for a start-up.

We know that at least 70% of jobs are found using in-person relationship-building activities, or networking. We know that people who can build good relationships will be better managers, leaders, and developers in central roles in business, law, and non-profit companies. We cannot lose this ability and skill. If anything, we need to do more to nurture and educate the next generation to develop the ability to create authentic interpersonal relationships which are developed in part through casual, spontaneous conversation.

As a parent of three young adults, I know that as they grew up, having family dinners and including them in social events where adults were present helped them to become socially adept. They got comfortable talking with adults and helping guests feel welcome in our home. They learned to share their own personal interests and have conversations about politics, current events, sports, books, movies, and other topics. I would encourage parents to work hard to have family meals and act as role models for casual, spontaneous conversation where there is a give and take and everyone is listened to at the table. And I recommend enforcing this family rule: you have to put down the cell phone and interact with others. I would encourage parents to have reunions, get-togethers, and parties where friends come over and all ages are included in the interactions. And if you yourself are spending a lot of time behind a computer or glued to your cell phone, challenge yourself to get out and go to professional events so that you can practice “casual talk.”

Practicing a skill improves it, and spontaneous conversation is a skill we have to have to be successful in our professional lives.

In my next blog I will write about some of the key strategies and tips that I teach my clients who are nervous about going to professional events or meeting in-person to network for opportunities.