Saturday
Apr102010

Seeking a New Job? Determine Your Niche.

Your niche is the place where your background and abilities best align with the needs of your target employers.  The fact that there are so many job seekers pursuing so few jobs right now (5 1/2 seekers per opening) makes defining your niche more important than it’s ever been.  It is an ESSENTIAL personal marketing tool.

In working to define your niche it may be helpful to think of how a product makes a place for itself in the marketplace (not just a place on the supermarket shelf, but a place in the mind of the consumer) – the key challenge in the field of marketing.  Having majored in marketing in business school, and having worked with what is probably the world’s best consumer goods marketer, Procter & Gamble, for over 17 years, it’s an endeavor with which I’ve gained considerable familiarity. 

A product finds its ideal niche through learning about the needs of consumers in its category – the target audience (e.g. Starbucks coffee drinkers, parents concerned about their kids getting cavities, teen male Nintendo players).  It learns this through research and market testing.  The product needs to be packaged and advertised in a unique way that appeals to its target audience, but it must also offer features that will be appreciated by that audience, or else after one try the product won’t be repurchased.  Again, packaging, advertising, and desirable product features are discovered through research. As the needs or preferences of its audience changes, the product, its packaging, and its advertising needs to change along with the audience, or it will lose its relevance and ultimately fail. 

In the workplace, determining your niche requires you to carefully assess three quite different sets of facts: what it is you have to offer, what it is that is being sought by employers in your chosen field, and what competitors (others seeking similar jobs) are offering. Determining what you offer, and what employers need, is a fluid process.  As you experiment with how to present your qualifications, you should be guided by what is being sought by companies that are hiring.  Experience? Technical knowledge? Creativity? As you accumulate more and more knowledge you can refine your niche – adjusting both your target audience (employers) and your offering (as reflected, for example, in your resume).  Make sure your “ elevator speech* ”, your website, your resume, and every other way you present yourself in a professional context reflects your niche.  As for differentiating yourself from the competition, stress results you’ve achieved and ways in which you went above and beyond what was required.  This can be done in a cover letter as well as in a resume and interview, and most certainly in a website.  By the way, be sensitive to the fact that employers routinely check Facebook and other social media to learn more about you, so try to ensure that your posts are mature.

You can, of course, pursue more than one niche, but the niches need to be specific.  If you’re not sure exactly what it is you want to do (i.e. in what field to be job hunting), utilize some of the resources on my Career Counseling page, or call me to make an appointment so that we can move towards greater clarity.  I will also work with you to create a niche that will greatly facilitate your finding new employment.

*An elevator speech is a brief statement combining who you are / where you've been / what you excel at / what you're looking for.  The name comes from the idea that the statement should be short enough to be delivered during a ride in an elevator (but NOT a 50 story+ building's elevator!).  Example: "I'm a sales executive with particular expertise in technological business-to-business products.  Until recently I worked at a large conglomerate, but when it was bought by a European company my position was eliminated.  I'm looking for a position in a company that needs to improve its market share.  That's something I've been able to do consistently across a wide range of product categories, even intensely competitive ones".

 

 

Saturday
Apr032010

Focusing Your Attention

Attention spotlights what it rests upon.  When you are paying attention to something, you are making a choice (ideally an intentional one but far too often an unintentional one) to highlight particular aspects of your environment or experience (physical and/or emotional).

Most of us are pretty poor at being able to focus our attention.  This may be related to biology or genetics in certain cases, particularly in someone diagnosed with A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder)*  It is certainly related to a technological revolution that has exponentially increased the variety of distractions on which we can focus, whether this be the number of channels available on our televisions, the constantly changing personal landscape of Facebook, with messages arriving every few minutes if not seconds, images requiring attention before they disappear on Snapchat; the increasing number and hypnotic realism of video games, and  the intrusions on our attention created by text messages and tweets. With so many sources competing for our attention, it is easier and easier to find oneself in reactive mode.  

In reactive mode, we are in essence allowing others to dictate where our attention will be focused.  At one time in the not-too-distant past, slipping into that reactive mental state allowed for some mental "unwinding". People used the expression "veg out" to describe the semi-vegetative state we often entered when watching TV. In 2017, however, "veg-ing out" is less and less likely, particularly among Millennials.  Multi-tasking is the norm - watching TV, listening to an iPod, texting, and logging onto Facebook essentially all at the same time.

Attention can be thought of as a puppy.  It is rambunctious and very easily distracted, but with the proper training can become laser-focused.  "Stay" is a command that can work just as well for our attention as it can for a well-trained dog. It will be revealing for you to notice, during the course of a day, how many times your attention is drawn by an outside source, and how long your attention remains "captured" by that source.  I suspect you will discover that a larger proportion of your mental activity than you imagined is devoted to those outside sources.  

What are some of the advantages of focused attention? There are some particularly obvious ones when it comes to relationships - who among us feels good when a spouse, friend, or family member pretends to be listening but is obviously focused on something else? And there are huge career enhancers that come from sharpening our ability to focus: Increased productivity (allowing us to complete complex tasks in a reasonable amount of time).  Increased clarity (allowing us to develop better hypotheses to explain causality or relatedness, better answers to difficult questions, and more extensive probing of meaning and significance). Increased creativity (by enabling in-depth, rather than superficial, attention to a subject, we are able to see more alternatives, and discover better solutions to problems). 

By now I hope I've convinced you of the value of training your "attention puppy".  Several different techniques to train it are contained in my post of January 21, 2010 entitled "Choosing Your Thoughts".  Another category of technique is to exercise more vigilance about what sources you are allowing to draw your attention. Whether it be a friend who is overly pessimistic or complaining, a phone that is constantly beeping with texts of less-than-earth-shattering importance, or in particular these days in this city the practically irresistible lure of learning what astounding new developments there are in the world of politics, start to pay greater attention to the sources of distraction and particularly to sources of negativity.

 

*I, and many others in my field, are convinced that A.D.D. is overdiagnosed and, concomitantly, overmedicated.

Sunday
Mar282010

Good Judgment Comes from Experience, and Experience Comes from Bad Judgment

I just completed a 3 day symposium here in Washington D.C., where the ideas being presented and discussed were as fascinating as the appearance of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths only a few weeks after the worst series of snowstorms ever to hit the area.  Among the more interesting of the talks I attended was one given by Dr. Rick Hanson (www.rickhanson.net) entitled: "Buddha's Brain: Neuroscience and Mindfulness".   The talk had virtually nothing to do with Buddhism, but I learned quite a bit about the brain, and the mind's influence on it.  Brain and Mind are indeed separate things.  The brain is a physical organ, while the mind (as defined in Merriam-Webster) is:

 a : the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons b : the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism c : the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism.

Among the more interesting concepts presented was that our physical brains can actually be re-shaped by the experiences and thoughts we have (this has been clinically verified in numerous studies).  Unfortunately, for evolutionary reasons our brains have been "wired" to be far more sensitive to negative developments than to positive ones.  

Early humans were at very high risk of being killed by a variety of sources ranging from predators to poisonous plants.   In order to ensure the survival of the species through the passing on of genes, evolution wound up "favoring" individuals who were highly wary.  In the most primitive ("reptilian") part of the brain, the part that governs the "fight, freeze, or flight" response, 70% of cells are focused on tracking potentially negative external circumstances (risk), with only 30% focused on the positive (opportunity).  This bias towards the negative is confirmed by studies demonstrating that individuals will work much harder to avoid loss than to achieve gain.  This underlying bias is maladaptive in the 21st century, particularly as it relates to career and relationships.  

As a life coach, psychotherapist, couples counselor and career coach I see far too much unhappiness caused by the fear of taking a risk (changing jobs or partners).  Understanding that we are wired to favor risk avoidance explains why this is so, but does not justify it.  In order to develop, we must have a wide variety of experiences.  From these experiences come the growing wisdom that makes future success and happiness more likely.  Inevitably, among these experiences will be mistakes.  Learning to forgive yourself for your mistakes, and seeing that they can be of value, will change self-recrimination into contemplation.  Out of this contemplation can come wisdom because wisdom consists not only of knowing the right things to do, but also the wrong ones.  It is this fact that makes the title of today's post so true.

Saturday
Mar202010

Principles for Finding the Ideal Career - Part III: THE Essential Step to Achieving Success

Although you may not be able to define it at this moment, the one essential step in achieving success is knowing what success means TO YOU.  The outside world generally defines success in measurable, material terms: money, power, status, influence.  For many in 21st century America, perhaps even the majority, success means dollars in the bank, as those dollars can provide a sense of security, a measure of power, or the ability to impact others.  But dollars in and of themselves provide none of those things.  They are a means to other ends. Dictionary.com gives what is to me an unjustifiably limiting definition of success as “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like”: all of those attainments being quantifiable.  Another definition is: “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors”, which falls short because it views success as an end point.  It is not.  Success should ideally be continuous, or at least frequent, and need not be quantifiable.  Rather, success is the ability or capacity to activate in one’s outer world the passions and values that matter most in the inner world.  

Some (lucky) people have an early sense for what are their deepest passions. For these people when their work is detached from or unrelated to those passions it is easy to feel a sense of career failure.  That can be a mistake.  Work that offers the flexibility or the income to pursue passionate interests, provided that the work is not stultifying, can be part of an overall highly successful life.  For example, a job that is only moderately engaging could be judged an essential part of a successful life mosaic if it allows for deep engagement with family, or with an artistic pursuit like art, music, acting or writing, fields in which it is notoriously hard to make a living. 

I’m not advocating that you be satisfied with work that doesn’t resonate with your soul.  But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve failed because it doesn’t.  That kind of thinking can inhibit your search for more deeply meaningful work because it could lead you to question your worth. It could also erect barriers to doing the kind of hard work necessary to activate passion (see below).

For many other people there is no long-standing passion, and what they might become passionate about is a mystery. It turns out that passion more often than not emerges as expertise deepens, and it also turns out that deepening expertise requires a lot of hard work. Two excellent books that explain how this works are Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" and Cal Newport's "So Good They Can't Ignore You."

What abouit values? These can be difficult to specify, although all of us possess them.  To gain a better understanding of your values and to how well attuned you are to meaningfulness in your life, I recommend that you go to www.authentichappiness.org and take the 10 question Meaning in Life questionnaire.  This site also contains other valuable free questionnaires, measuring such vital life aspects as overall happiness, work-life satisfaction, and character strengths.  These tests are free, all you have to do is register with the site (from which I’ve thankfully never received an unsolicited e-mail).

If you are still unsure about your values and what gives your life meaning I definitely recommend working with a professional like myself, who combines an understanding of the true meaning of success with the ability to ask the kinds of questions that elicit the information necessary to define it for you.  No matter what, though, remember that success needs to be a reflection of your individuality rather than a socially-constructed consensus about superficial measurements of achievement.

Tuesday
Mar162010

My Most-Read Blog Post

The majority of people reading my blog are going to a post dated January 24, 2010, entitled: "Experience is Not What Happens To You.  It Is What You Do With What Happens to You".   This 600 word post contains much of the core of what I believe about human psychological experience, and forms a foundation for the work that I do.

I hope you will read and consider it.