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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?

Still Speaking Comma, United Church of Christ

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?

“A Tale from the Decameron,” by John William Waterhouse, 1916

One of the things that I’m always talking about is the need to be a story teller in your job search.  You always have to retell the stories of your past accomplishment, experiences, and adventures in the working world to people who weren’t there.  Otherwise, they would already know you and wouldn’t have to ask!

There are many ways to tell a story, and in the job search, it will come out in certain ways: in your resume, your cover letter, the interview, your tweets, your online portfolio, your Facebook wall, when I google your name, what someone else tells me about you, etc.  The thing is that you need to know your stories first before you know which format to put them in.  I find that a great number of my clients want me to help them with their resumes, but they don’t know what stories to tell.  As I see it, there are three levels of the story of you:

  1. You in Your Essence: On the highest possible level, who do you say you are, and what do you want people to think of you.  You can think of this in some way to be in line with your vision of yourself, but it could manifest itself in many ways.
  2. You in the Roles of Your Life: You as a college student is different from you in your current job.  You have the story of you in each of your jobs, in every volunteer leadership role, and you as the captain of your middle school basketball team. How do you want to be known in each of these?
  3. You in the Projects You’ve Accomplished: Within each of your roles, you done some projects.  Those projects might have been big (running a convention) or small (writing a press release) but they were all projects that had a beginning, middle, and an end.  These are the stories that are easy enough to tell and get your point across about how you can help others.

What I’ve found is that many people are trying to tell a story about them at their essence (I’m great! I have great skills!), but it’s so vague that it doesn’t come across as meaningful, interesting or compelling. It’s really only in the stories about the projects you’ve accomplished that you can really make an impression.  They build up to the areas of your essence and your roles. (For thoughts about how to tell your story, check out my post about Fairy Tales and telling your story.)

Granted, you will tell your stories differently depending on the audience, but that’s an entirely differently blog post.

So, do you know who you want to tell your stories to, and what stories you want to tell?

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?

As many of you know, I’m a single guy and have been for a few years.  I’ve been doing a lot of personal development work recently, and really feel pretty good about myself and what I’ve got to offer.  That said, I’ve been more strongly putting myself out there in the dating world.  As you can imagine, the world is quite different for a middle-aged gay man than it was in the late 1980’s when I was first looking for love.  Now, everything is online and you are presenting yourself and your features and benefits for all to see.  You can be screened out or screened in depending on how you present yourself.

One thing I feel pretty strongly about is presenting myself as closely as possible to who I am right now. I post my current age (if you aren’t interested in maturity and experience, fine), my physical size (this is what I’ve got; take it or leave it), and my current interests and how my personality comes through. Also, I want people to think that I look really good for my age, not that I look really old for 10 years younger than myself.

I am surprised that not everyone feels the same way.  When I’ve met guys, sometimes I’m surprised that what I’m presented with doesn’t match the information I was giving.

  • One guy posted that he was 53, but stated that he was actually 59 when we got together for dinner.
  • Another stated that he was 5’9″, but when I met him he was shorter than me (and I’m 5’7.5″!)
  • A third was very chatty in our messages going back and forth and showed a lot of enthusiasm in meeting, but when we did meet, I had to practically drag a conversation out of him.

I’m of the point that I feel good about myself and I’m looking for the right fit: a mature, intelligent, communicative, adventurous man who can be my partner in crime.  I know the criteria I’m looking for, and I’m willing to wait, but also willing to give a guy a chance if he doesn’t initially seem to have all the qualifications but looks promising.

As I’ve mentioned before, a job search is like dating.  You both are looking for the right one and everyone is awkward.  You want to present the best you have as truthfully as possible.  If you’ve got little lies here and there, they will be found out, and your reputation will take a nose dive.  If you’re willing to play fast and loose with your own information, they might not trust you with their business. If what you present (resume, cover letter, stories about yourself) don’t match what I get when I meet you, I will feel like it’s a waste of my time.  (That’s one reason I like to chat with guys a bit before agreeing to meet.  If you can’t hold up your end of a conversation virtually, you certainly can’t do it in person, and I hate wandering into that trap!)

The key here is that there is someone for everyone in the dating world and the job search.  It’s not automatic and people won’t fall out of the sky into your lap, so you have to be proactive to find a mate and find a job.  As I say, figure out where the people are that you want to be with, and go to those places and say you want to be there (and figure out what they want and if you have it or need to acquire it!)

So, are you presenting yourself truthfully, and do you know what others are looking for?

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

In our new world of social media, there are numerous new ways that we can be in contact with friends, business connections, high school classmates, and random people that we met at a party nine months ago. While two if the most prominent networks online are LinkedIn (for professional contacts or friends who you don’t mind vouching for) and Facebook (for friends, sort-of friends, random one-time contacts, etc.), there are numerous other social websites that look to connect people who share particular interests. Two that I currently and involved with are GTD Connect (for people working on productivity issues using the GTD philosophy) and Real Jock (a sports and fitness website for gay men).  These are places that you can find people who have the same interests as you and share ideas. There’s a site for just about every interest; many which I am sure would surprise you as to its narrowness of focus.

In just about each of these site, there’s an opportunity to make a connection to another person. Whether it’s called a friend, link, buddy, co-worker, or whatever, it’s your way of saying that this is someone that you have a mutual understanding that you share some experience.

I have found that there are two types of approaches to this: the “open networker” and the “I-take-the-phrase-friend-seriously connector”. The Open Networker is one who sees social networking as way to expand a network and figures they will get to know you when you get into your inner circle. The other is one where they aren’t going to admit you to their secret club until you’ve already got a relationship developed outside of the venue.

There are plusses and minuses to each, and it can vary for each person within the different settings. It also depends on how you want to be seen in the world. I don’t tend to be an open networker, as I want to be able to speak with some knowledge if someone asks me about someone I’m connected with. If I really don’t know them, then 1) I won’t have a lot to say if someone asks me about them, and 2) if I want to engage them in some way, they don’t know me and will be less likely to help.So, here’s how I manage my connections in the three largest social networking sites:

LinkedIn: I only connect with people who I have had personal or professional interactions (in person or on line) previous to our connecting. I also need to feel that I could speak highly about them if asked for a recommendation. Since everyone can see your connections, you are as credible as the company you keep. If I don’t know you, I can’t recommend you.

Twitter: I’m happy to have as many people connect with me on Twitter as possible! That’s where I try to put a public face on what I do, both personally and professional.  Feel free to follow me at https://twitter.com/kenmattsson.

Facebook: I have two places on Facebook to connect.

  • The Spirit-Work Connection: This is my group where I post about issues that I think are important to think about where you intersect with the work you to and the spirit you are.  I post meditations daily and links to resources that I think can help people.  I encourage everyone (that means you!) to join the Spirit-Work Connection.  It’s open to everyone, whether I have a strong personal connection or not.
  • My personal Facebook Account: This is where I write about all sorts of things that come to mind.  I limit this to people who I know personally outside of Facebook.

I’m more of the “get to know me first” type guy. Once I get to know you, I’ll can let you in (guess it’s the chilly New Englander in me!) Granted, you can also subscribe to this blog, and get to know me more here.  Even better, post a comment about something I’ve said.

If you ask to connect with me, and I don’t know you, I’ll probably ask you where we know each other from.  That will force you to say “oh, we don’t know each other.” Then I’ll probably refer you to this blog post. 🙂

I want to manage my reputation in the world, and part of my reputation is the people I surround myself with. If I don’t know you, then I can’t be sure.  I’m sure you’re great, but until I know that, I’ll play coy.

So, how are you managing who you’re connected with?

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?

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

I am a career consultant who specializes in the connection between what your spirit wants to do in the world, and how to marry that to the work that you do in order to support yourself. While I work with people in all fields, I specialize in working with "creative entrepreneurs" and the LGBT community.

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