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As a native Bostonian (or at least Bay Stater), I often meet people who are from another part of the country and state that Bostonians are cold and mean, unlike people from other parts of the country, and that I’m “different and not like them”. I counter that I’m exactly like the other natives here, but as I have to translate concepts so often in my work, I’m better able to articulate the differences to others in terms they understand. After a particularly interesting talk I ad on Friday (thanks David!), I figured that it world probably be best for me to put my thoughts on writing. This post is basically a continuation or further development of my post on Chilly New Englanders.
My main point is that New Englanders have good boundaries. Sometimes a little to recalcitrant and difficult to penetrate, but they are are a part of who we are. We’re pretty aware of others and when we’re being invited in, and when we’re bring intruded. We give people space and wait for them to give us a signal. This Is very different from the warm welcome that most people from the Southern US do automatically. A comment I heard from a Southerner is that they want to be seen as welcoming. From a Northerner’s perspective, it’s an invasion. We want to know who we’re talking to, and what connections there might be. My mind goes back to a very old formality that used to be common: The Calling Card.
It used to be in ages past, if you were going into a new city or starting in a new community, you would bring a calling card with you that introduced you to people and it would be from someone that they already had a relationship with. You then knew that this new person was one that you already had something in common with. While it might have been one of “good breeding” back in those days, a big thing was that you could talk about the same things.
In our modern times, we have the same thing. Think about Yelp, Amazon, or any of the major social media sites. You can ask about a business, product, or person, and figure out what their reputation is. You don’t just pick up any book, movie, restaurant menu, etc. You’re usually looking to see if you have some connection to it. Has this actor performed in something else you liked? Does the owner of this restaurant own another one your friend ate at and liked? In our world, we’re constantly looking for references. Just in New England, we tend to still do it for social reasons. Does this person also like the Red Sox? Does she also knit? Does he do genealogy? We’re looking to see if we have something in common, so we know we’ve got a good likelihood of getting along.
So, where do you get your references?
A number of years ago, the United Church of Christ started a campaign called “Still Speaking” and it was inspired by a quote by Gracie Allen, who said “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” The concept here is that there’s a whole bunch more to be learned in this world, and those that say we’ve heard it all and the “truth has been told”, never to be challenge, are missing a lot. I’m not a UCC member, but I always respected that church and what they were trying to do to bring a little balance to the radical evangelicals who have been telling everyone who can hear that they have the answers and people should not trust their own experiences. <off soapbox>
This idea has really struck with me in a career development sense, especially as it relates to networking and building relationships. I like to tell my clients that they should try to have every conversation that they have with people end in a comma, not a period. Commas signify that there will be things still to come. Periods signify that things have ended. The goal for all professional (as well as personal!) relationships is that there is a future to be had, and you need to keep engaged in the conversation.
This is especially true when people are looking for a job. A common mistake that I see is that people use a lot of period-ending questions, like “Do you have a job opening?”. Most likely, the answer will be “No” and that ends the conversation. If instead, you asked a comma-ending question like “I’m looking to find out more about Company X. Where would you recommend that I look, or who could I talk to who can lead me to more information?” That type of question will keep the conversation going, as there are more options, and it can take you in many different directions.
I would say that this tactic could be more helpful in all of our conversations, as it gives some breathing room to the person being asked (no one likes to say No all the time!) and it forces the question asker to be open to information that might not be what was expected.
So, what is your best comma-ending question you’ve used?
I think that a lot of us feel like “If people just knew the real me, they’d realize I’m a fraud”. Everyone seems to have that little voice in your head that says that you’re not good enough at (fill in the blank). I’ve definitely heard this voice too often.
It’s so surprising when I’ve talked with the most talented and creative clients and they too have this little voice. Given that reality, I’ve come to believe that it’s probably a more universal source. We’ve all got the voice, but it’s our unique version of it It’s like we’ve got a resident bodyguard whose job it is to point out to us at every step what might go wrong and protect us.
I’ve found it helpful to give this voice I name. I’ve named mine Gollum after the character in Lord of the Rings, as he seems to work out of a position if fear and secrecy. When he shows up, I can view him as another input, but one that I can easily acknowledge but not put too much faith in.
This shows up in job searchers in that many times they don’t speak well of themselves to others. This is the classic “bombing the interview” or missing the networking opportunity. They are listening and putting too much credence into their own personal Gollum that they don’t put themselves out there.
Thus is where my recommendation to ” fake it ’till you make it” comes it. I’m not talking about faking your competence at anything, but to fake your confidence. Nobody wants to be around someone who is nervous and twitching. If you just act like you’re confident, your results will probably be better, and that will lead to more confidence. Hopefully, this cycle will continue and you will get more successes, which will lead to more confidence.
So, what kind of confidence do you need to fake?
I have heard many a job searcher complain that they could do anything if just given the chance. “I could do that but they just don’t know it yet!” It is like job searchers think that they are pounds of clay that just need to be molded by the right hands to make a beautiful vase.
The main problem with this approach is that the job seeker is focused on their experience and not that of the hiring manager. Let’s instead look at it from that point of view.
Imagine that you are a manager, and you need some help. You’ve got a lot of responsibilities and you are probably covering a part of someone else’s position (which is why you need help). In addition to that, now you have to make the extra effort to find someone to help you. What you’d really like to do is blink your eyes like Samantha in the old Bewitched TV show (or wriggle your nose like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie) and have someone magically appear that is perfect for the position and can take all this work off your desk.
Just to enlighten you, as much as people don’t like looking for a job, managers don’t like having to do the search. Everyone doesn’t like the uncertainty of it. That said, the manager wants to know three things that will instill some confidence that you are the right person for the job. The more you can make it obvious that you’ve got all these things, the easier it will be that they are making the right decision in bringing you on
The three things that every hiring manager needs to know about you are:
- Do You Have the Skills, Knowledge and Experience That I Need for Someone in This Position? Do you know what’s expected of someone in this role. If you don’t have what they need, then you are guessing about what to tell them to give them confidence.
- Will I Want To Hang Around With You All Day? Most people spend more time with their co-workers than their family daily. While I don’t have to be your best friend, I want to know that I can go out to lunch with you once in a while, have a pleasant conversation and get along with you. The hiring manager can’t tell this from a resume and cover letter.
- Will You Drive Me Crazy? Almost everyone has the experience of working with someone who is brilliant, intelligent, creative, etc. but is sobbing who you would never what to work with for the rest of your life. We all know the Prima Donna concept, and no manager wants to work with someone who will need as much work to support as it will with the results of their actions. Again, this can’t be gleaned from a resume.
So, how do you get them to understand that you’re great to be around and won’t drive them crazy? Same as how you figure out which restaurant has good service and which frozen dinner doesn’t taste like cardboard: references from trusted sources. If the hiring manager knows of people you know and they can speak to the fact that you are professional, aren’t a raving lunatic, and work well with others, I’m going to have more confidence in you. That said, you need to build up your relationships with people who the hiring manager might talk to before the job opens up. You need to be seen as credible to people all the time, and not just when applying for the job.
So, what relationships are you building in your professional field that will help you in the future?
I just got back from a great dance weekend where I got to contra dance, English Country Dance, waltz, and catch up with many friends who I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to in a while. This community has been a constant support to me and gets to the core of my creative life, which is music and dance in a GLBT context. In the story of the past few years, I’ve been exploring other parts of my life, and I’m now looking to see how I can integrate this part of me that has been secure back into my life.
That, and I need to get back into dancing shape. I’m a sore puppy today, and I even tried to pace myself. I guess that and I’m not 25 anymore. More transitions.
What really touched me is that I connected with two friends, one who just started a new job and another unemployed and looking, and they both mentioned that they read this blog and have gotten either techniques, context, understanding, or all three. I try to bring whatever insight (or crazy idea) I have, and it’s nice to know that others have gotten benefit from it. I never know who reads this blog, so it’s nice to get some positive feedback, as that gives me impetus to keep writing.
As usual, I like to see this in the broader context of how each of us shows up in the world and makes an impact. It made my day that I found out others appreciated what I had to say, and that it made a difference in their lives. You never know what it is that you have to offer will make a difference to others, whether it’s the knowledge you share, or the acknowledgment that you made a difference.
So, if this blog has helped you, let me know, and what ways are you making a difference to others?
I met a friend this past weekend who just moved to the Boston area a few months ago from California, and he was looking for ways that he could connect up with other people to play tennis. As someone new to the area, he seemed a bit confused as to how he could find out where things were happening. I mentioned that he should look in the Community section of BayWindows.com for all the GLBT groups in the area, and that I also had a friend who played in a gay tennis league not too far from where he lives.
This got us to talking more about how the Boston area always makes connections by groups and common interest. (I’ve written about this before in my blog. See the article here). He then commented that it also worked when he had been at a club that there were a group of guys that kept to themselves, but when he was introduced to them through someone he knew, they all talked with him and could reintroduce himself the next time he saw them. We here in the chilly North tend to want to know the connections between people before we make approaches.
As usual, I see a parallel with job search. If you are trying to get a job or moving into a new field, the people you want to meet are those that you want to show that you have something in common with. People aren’t going to want to meet you because you’re nice; there are a lot of nice people in the world. We tend to make our choices about which movie to go see, which TV to buy, or which restaurant to dine at given the comments of our trusted sources.
So, what stories about you are your friends and colleagues telling about you, and are they making others what to meet you?
PS – Remember to listen to the Quest of Life Podcast on Friday at 1 p.m. EST to hear me live (see previous blogpost about that!)
In the past day, I’ve seen two very inventive videos of people who are doing the things they love and sharing them. The first is a video by Emerson College students where they are doing a lip psyching video to a compilation of Lady Gaga songs. It involves over 400 students and was basically a campus tour as the showed all the facilities but also demonstrated the skill sets that they were developing in their studies (namely performance, video production, editing, event coordination, etc.). I’ve worked with a number of students that I see in this video and it’s amazing to see what they’ve accomplished. It’s also starting to go viral around the world too.
The second one was a music video of musician performing jazzed-up Christmas carols, but only using different iPhone and iPod apps. They replicate hand bells, guitars, conga drums, and numerous other instruments. The performance is great, and really shows off their technical skills.
This reminds me a lot of the video of the band Atomic Tom that performed and recorded a music video on the subway using just iPhones for both the performing and recording.
What do these all have in common? These people are demonstrating to the works what they have to offer others professionally. You don’t have to wonder what they can do, as they are showing it off. You don’t have to go and ask these people of their value; it’s right in front of you.
What does this have you do with your career? Everything!
Most people I work with hide what they have to offer the world, or at least make it so difficult to find out this information that people never see it. It’s either so cryptically written in a resume or an interviewer needs to ask so many questions to find the answer that the news of your value never gets out to be seen.
If you’re going to be happy in what you do in your career, it needs to cone from the capabilities that you have that you love to do (and are skilled at!). Are you a good writer? Write things that people can actually see (instead of keeping it all locked away on your computer or journal. Really good at organizing? Organize something that people in the world will experience. And mist importantly, after you’ve done it, let other people know about it! Your reputation is built on your works, and other people will be able to say good things about you to others (like hiring managers) in the future.
So, what beautiful, creative things about yourself are you keeping from the world?