Career Adventure

career development from both sides of the interview table

Make the decision: Managing your attention

Even the most organized person can sometimes find themselves looking over their to-do list when they should be calling that client or submitting that resume, hashing and rehashing the most effective use of their time. But excessive focus on time management can result in mismanagement of another resource: your attention.

The first step in managing your attention is eliminating distractions, which could mean any number of things depending on the level of focus necessary for the task.  For instance, my first cut is the television, any computer notifiers (Outlook, Tweetdeck), Instant Messaging of all flavors, web email, etc.  You may consider clearing your desk of papers or turning off the phone.

But even setting the stage may not be enough.  Routinely managing your attention requires discipline.  Try making your workday an exercise in decisiveness. If you have a pretty good system for organizing your life, you know what you have to do on any given day.  When you sit down to start work, choose that thing that is most important for you to accomplish today and do it.  Don’t let the temptation to review and rethink things creep in.  Of course, allowances must be made for new information — for instance, you may decide that if a client calls, that outweighs the task at hand.  But understanding and living by your priorities will make your entire workday more effective.

If you find 100% focus on any one task taxing, try setting aside one hour in the morning and afternoon to practice this skill.  You can set aside those tasks that require the most sustained focus and know that you’ve earmarked this space to achieve them.  Over time, you can maintain a higher level of focus over a longer period of time.

In another post, we’ll talk about some of the technological helpers to maintaining this level of focus.  In the meantime, if you’ve got tips, share them in the comments!

Filed under: howto, mindset, time management, , , , ,

Finding the humor in job loss

Humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully.

–Max Eastman

Everywhere you go nowadays, it seems someone has lost their job.  Your brother, your cousin, your dry cleaner’s daughter…  The bright side for the unemployed?  The stigma of job loss is dissolving.  Chances are if someone hasn’t experienced it personally, they’ve either known someone, or watched competent peers go through it in their own companies.

So, job loss is less shameful, perhaps.  But is it ever funny?

An article from Workforce.com examines the controversy over recent ads by Monster that use humor to point out that not everyone is in the right job.  Some say that humor in light of the slew of corporate layoffs and ever-increasing unemployment is out-of-step with public sentiment, as so many people are either out of work or grateful to have any job, regardless of how well it may suit them.

Job loss can be difficult, demoralizing, scary.  But dwelling on the negative doesn’t benefit anyone.  So, here are some guidelines:

If you have lost your job… Make all the jokes you want, but don’t focus on mocking either your former employer or yourself.  If you indulge in negative talk about your employer, either seriously or in jest, you may find this tendency sneaking out at inappropriate times.  Like a job interview.  Harboring resentment doesn’t get you anywhere, and if you’re not vigilant, you may reflect it in your body language or tone of voice.  And don’t be too hard on yourself, either.  Your mindset about your own capabilities will affect your effectiveness while networking or interviewing as well.

If you are a “survivor”… Recognize that times around your workplace are tough.  A little laughter can break the tension, but you want to avoid comments about those individuals who did not survive the layoffs, as you don’t know who maintains close relationships with those individuals.  You can lose trust and credibility with your coworkers.  And don’t think that just because someone doesn’t come to the office every day that they don’t hear what’s going on.

If you’re managing survivors… You’re subject to the same rules as above with one additional restriction: no jokes about who will be the “next to go.”  The possibility of further layoffs will be on your team’s mind and interfering with their productivity.  Bringing additional focus on the possibility, even in jest, won’t help them regain focus.

Alright, so a little levity on a Friday is in order.  Want to enjoy some job-loss humor without risking your career?  Thank Dilbert.

Filed under: job hunt, mindset, , , , ,

One Question

In past job searches, I’ve focused on a career trajectory.  If I have position A, that qualifies me for position B, which in turn qualifies me for C, etc.  My job searches have been all about finding that position B — that next step in an inevitable climb up the corporate ladder.

But a couple of life changes (parenthood, unemployment) have seriously reordered my definition of a career path.

So, reading today The ONE Question Every Entrepreneur Must Ask by Scott  Ginsberg (aka The Nametag Guy), I thought about how applicable the question is in other contexts.

The question that Scott poses (and I encourage you to click through and read the original) is:  What are YOU building?

Scott attacks it from the standpoint of entrepreneurship, but all of  us can benefit from answering this question.  Even as a cog in the greater wheel, we have the opportunity to build things within the span of our control, and often far beyond it.

So, as a job seeker I am asking myself the question, and using it to help me determine what the next step for me should be.  What are YOU building?  And is it the work and the life that you want?

Filed under: entrepreneurship, mindset, , , , ,

Neuroscience and You: Working with your brain on your job hunt

One of the most enriching parts of Human Resources work for me is involvement in coaching.  While I’m searching for a new position, I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on research, discussion and methodology to hone my coaching abilities.

So, wandering through iTunes today, I ran across some recordings from the 2008 Asia Pacific Neuroleadership Summit via Results Coaching Systems in Australia.  Listening to “Coaching with the Brain in Mind” brought forth a point that may be worth considering in prepping for your next job interview:

Stress can literally short-circuit your ability to put forward your best self

David Rock shares the following about the way the brain works:

  • We have the capability to change the way we think and behave, but it requires significant conscious effort and attention.
  • The brain contains vast amounts of information.  As a way to maximize efficiency, the brain’s natural instinct is to move information that we utilize on a regular basis from working memory, which takes a lot of energy and resources, to our “hard wiring.”
  • Stressful situations, especially situations where we fear for our image or sense of self, overwhelm the brain with electrical activity.
  • This increased activity causes the brain to seek self-preservation through stasis, reverting to those behaviors that are hard wired and automatic.

Prepping for an interview is essential to putting forward your very best self.  But how do you target your prep so that you can overcome the effects of stress and focus on the content of the interview, rather than the context?  Answer: move as much as possible into your hard-wiring so that you can focus your attention on the fine-tuning.

Level 1:  Behaviors

The straightforward piece of this is identifying behaviors that might interfere with your perceived professionalism, energy or intellect.  Things like posture, rate of speech, word choice, facial expressions or manner of dress all have an impact on your first impression and the way you connect with an interviewer.  Luckily, these are all things you can practice every day, not just in an interview situation.  Make a list of things you’d like to work on.  Ask trusted friends, family or colleagues to help you identify areas of improvement if you need an outside perspective.  Then look for opportunities to practice more effective behaviors.  Maintain good posture while driving.  Put a quarter in a jar every time you say “like” or “um.”  Whatever it takes.

Level 2: Content

One of the best ways to prepare for interviews is to create narratives around your past projects and experiences that demonstrate your work.  In another post, we’ll talk about how to craft effective answers for behavioral interviewing questions.  For now, understand that every experience and project listed on your resume is ripe for questioning.  Take time to develop short speeches, one to three minutes each, identifying how these experiences have qualified you for the next step in your career.  Then practice, practice, practice.  If you can ensure that your attention in an interview doesn’t need to be on the details of your experience, you can better customize the story to the situation or react to facial expressions or body language that may tip you off to questions or concerns the interviewer holds.

Power Tip: Refining the system

Last thing to do: institute quality control.  If you’re in a situation where you recognize that these behaviors you’ve been practicing didn’t come through, take note, then practice that behavior more.

With work, you can develop a more professional, confident demeanor that comes through in the most stressful of circumstances.

Filed under: job hunt, mindset, , , , , , , ,

About Career Adventure

Career Adventure is the blog of Kristi Daeda, a Human Resources and recruiting pro sharing thoughts on career development from both sides of the interview table.

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