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Are We Down For The Count? Never!

One of my all-time favorite movies is Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman and George Kennedy. Remember the classic scene where both men fight in the yards and Newman’s Luke refuses to stay down? It’s right up there with the egg eating bet in terms of iconic scenes.

We’re all going to get knocked down. It’s a fact. And as so many wise folks have said before, it’s not the getting knocked down that’s the problem…it’s refusing to get back up again and keep moving. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’ll openly confess that the past six months have been a strange, at times frustrating journey. I’ve been on job interviews that seemed like great fits for both me and the employer only to learn that I failed because I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. I’ve also had a few potential contracts for Bailey WorkPlay dry up and disappear for reasons largely unknown. (And if you’re thinking there are lessons to learn when it comes to closing deals, you might be right.) But my point is not to lament these missed opportunities or seek pity. Instead, it’s to highlight how – when we get knocked on our ass – to get back up again.

Out of these experiences, I’ve learned to dream even bigger, work even harder, be even more persistent than before. Like Luke, when I get knocked down I’m dusting myself off, wiping away the bloody nose, and getting back up. Currently, I’m working on creating opportunities to do things I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do. I’m chasing down a long-held dream I want to become real. And I can’t wait to share the outcomes when the time is right.

How about you? Are you struggling to get back up on your feet after taking one to the chin? Are you shoving aside a dream to do something you’ve always wanted to do? Know that you’re not alone and don’t stay down. See it as an opportunity to stand up strong and continue to move forward in your journey. Fully believe that you deserve good in your life, because – trust me – you do.

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Open Letter to Fellow Career Zigzaggers

Okay, here I go…out on the proverbial limb. For a while, I’ve been listening to a very persuasive voice within me that said, “Chris, you’re a marketer and that’s all you should be doing. Now go out and find marketing-related jobs.” Want to know something strange? I’m not really a marketer. Sure, I have a solid grounding in the profession and even have some experience doing it. However, In the end, I’m a mutt, a dabbler, a generalist. I’ve successfully tackled positions like customer service, sales, data processing, web design, and yes, marketing. I’ve worked in non-profits and for-profits. I’ve even tried launching my own businesses a couple of times.

My professional trajectory hasn’t been a straight line…more like a zigzag. This is both good and bad. The good? I possess a wealth of different experiences, skillsets, and knowledge. This diversity allows me to uncover patterns that many “straight line” professionals likely can’t see. The bad? Most organizations don’t value this eclectic background so much. They want straight-liners and set their hiring practices up to reward them.

So for many of us career zigzaggers, vocational searchers, and Renaissance Souls we tend to feel neglected and discarded and wonder what the hell we ever did wrong to find ourselves in such a world. We then do something that truly dishonors our selves and undermines our value: we try to emulate the straight-liner. We interview and market ourselves like the straight-liners, all the while downplaying our own richness, our own unique qualities. We try to cram our polygon peg into the square hole and then wonder why we’re so dumb because it doesn’t fit.

Does this sound familiar to you? If so, know you’re not alone. It’s time to acknowledge that we have tremendous value to give. It’s time to be bold and proudly profess our unique abilities. We’re quick learning, intensely creative, spectacularly curious professionals (to name just a few attributes). So here’s my call to action: Instead of hiding our light under a bushel basket, let’s not just uncover it – let’s throw kerosene on it and start a wildfire. Even if they don’t know it yet, employers need us. Business today is moving way too fast for the straight-liners and the specialists to keep up. Organizations truly need our broad skillsets, diversity of experiences, and ability to learn quickly.

If you find yourself identifying with the zigzagger ideal, come and share your experiences. What are your frustrations? Any tips for how you’ve overcome challenges and claimed your value?

Now go out there and set your fire today.

photo credit: marcelgermain (via Flickr)

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The (Weak) Ties That Bind: The Jobhunting/Social Network Connection

Today, my good friend and fellow deep thinker Tim Walker pointed me toward an article from Time.com called Using Twitter and Facebook to Find a Job. This prompted a short, private back-and-forth on Twitter about the benefits of social media for work seekers and the overarching connections to Richard Bolles. It’s Richard Bolles who has come to be most commonly connected to the high-value idea of developing “weak ties” in our professional networking.

What are these weak links and why are they so darn valuable? I know one of the first groups we tend to reach out to when we need new work are close friends and family. It makes a certain amount of sense: if these folks won’t come to our aid, then who can we really rely on in our time of need? It turns out our strongest links may not be the most effective, however. Here’s the counter-intuitive approach from Bolles:

It makes sense that the people you are closest to will have more in common with you; they will tend to have the same interests as you, and they will tend to know the same people as you; there is a lot of overlap between your circle of 250 and their circle of 250. And because of that overlap, they will be more likely to know what you know. And in the same way, they will be less likely to know what you don’t know; in this case, of possible job-openings. It is when you start getting farther away from your core, and start finding people with less overlap between your 250 and theirs, that you will find the people and information that you, and those closest to you, are less likely to know. Though it seems paradoxical, it is the people that you know the least well, who are most likely to be helpful in your job hunt. This is called “The Strength of Weak Ties.” (emphasis added)

Bolles’s work is a wonderfully useful extension of the work proposed by Mark Granovetter around the same time in the early 1970s (and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they built off even earlier work). If you’re inclined to read up on some truly outstanding academic work, take a look at this later article from  Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. You’ll find many of the same principles. Here’s a wee snippet:

It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time.

So what can we quickly draw from these juicy bits of knowledge? Don’t be afraid to reach out to individuals not in your tight inner circle. Even the most tangential connection may be the one that helps you settle into your next work gig. If the thought of contacting people you haven’t spoken to in years is daunting, start smaller. Reach out to people you know, industries you’re familiar with, groups you belong to and then take it one step outward.

  • Use LinkedIn to find new colleagues and groups who are connected to your own contacts.
  • Join in on Twitter and seek out interesting people. Start up a dialogue there and expand your network.
  • Go offline and volunteer with a nonprofit. Give five hours a week and you’ll be amazed at the diversity of people you’ll meet in your work. Plus it has the bonus of making a contribution to a worthy cause.

If you’ve had success at developing your own weak links to find work, what did you do? Love to hear your stories.

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Online Community Roundup: Jobseekers Edition

I’m in a unique position where I straddle a few different roles. My role as Chief Community Officer for JobAngels puts me in contact with jobseekers around the world who need help finding work. But this is currently a part-time, voluntary role so I’m also seeking work myself. I’ve chosen to put myself out there through Gravit8 and offer services to help organizations build communities and think about their customer relationships differently. As a starting point, I laid out what types of work I’m open to on my Hiring Chris page: www.gravit8.com/about-gravit8/hiring-chris/.

If you’re out there and looking for work, think creatively about your options. You don’t have to go down the same path (I fully understand it may not work for everyone), but if you’re looking for just a full-time job you might be missing opportunities. To this point, read Connie Bensen’s latest post: Reinvent to Find New Opportunities (I’d like to think that I inspired bullet #3). But the truly juicy nugget is bullet #4:

Put yourself out there. There are many seeking jobs. You need to TELL potential employers that you’re interested & how you can contribute to their business objectives. How do you know who the potential employers are? Look around because they’re everywhere. Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn make it easier than ever to connect with everyone at a company no matter their position. (Tip for LinkedIn – if you don’t know someone’s email address, use Groups & select one that you belong to. Add a note as to why you want to connect.) This is the time to stand out from the crowd. Make your success happen.

I’ve learned through my own experience and experiences of others that waiting for others to make the magic happen for you isn’t a gameplan for success. I won’t lie…putting yourself out there takes courage. I still struggle with it at times. But here are a few strategies I use which have been successful:

Know what makes you unique. Don’t think one singular talent or skill, but think cumulative. For me, it’s my combined background in association membership development, experience working with clients on developing actionable websites, in-depth knowledge of social media and growing expertise in business anthropology. See how each of these particular elements add to create something special? It’s the same for you.

Know how your unique professional self can help an organization solve a problem. One sure way to distance yourself from the jobhunting pack is to not think about employment from your own perspective, but approach from an employer’s perspective. Think how you can help take away a pain felt by a prospective employer. Your reputation for being indispensable begins with tackling problems that clear the way toward increased sales or reduced costs.

Know there is strength in partnerships. If you’re open to the idea of being flexible and pursuing contract or consulting work, realize you don’t have to go it alone. Find other agencies or consultants who could benefit from your unique services and pitch the possibility of collaboration. Just remember the first two points above also apply here: know what makes you unique and how you can help them solve a client problem.

Don’t sit around waiting for magic to happen. Realize that you do have something unique to offer either an employer or a partner. Think about what that might be and then go get it. And let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.

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