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818: How to Find Greater Clarity, Satisfaction, and Fulfillment in Your Career with Scott Anthony Barlow

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Scott Anthony Barlow shares powerful wisdom from many career changers on how to craft a fulfilling career path.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The massive costs of poor career fit
  2. Why you shouldn’t wait on clarity to act
  3. Three risk-free ways to get a feel for a career change

About Scott

Scott Anthony Barlow wants you to find work you freakin’ love! He is CEO of Happen To Your Career and host of the HTYC podcast, which has been listened to over 3 million times across 159 countries, and is the largest career change podcast in the world. As a former HR Leader, Scott has interviewed over 2000 people for jobs and completely rejects the way that most organizations choose to do work. He’s a nerd for self development, human behavior and ice hockey. Scott lives in Washington state with his wife and 3 kids.

Resources Mentioned

Scott Anthony Barlow Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Thank you very, very much. I am quite excited to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have you as well. And so now, Scott, we’ve had a lot of conversations that were not recorded, maybe for the best.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
And one thing that I know about you is you are hardcore and inspiring when it comes to your goalsetting and you even have a nifty family goalsetting approach that involves your kids and a fun environment. Tell us the story here.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, here’s the story. My wife and I, we’ve set goals for probably approaching 15, maybe even approaching 20 years. I’m not even sure exactly when it started. I’d have to go back and do the calendar math. But all that to say we’ve been doing that for ourselves over and over again. And, actually, it originally started when we were trying to pay off about almost $400,000 worth of debt.

And so, we had this initial goal and so we started building skills around how to set and accomplish goals in order to get that nearly $400,000 paid down. And we eventually did that but then we realized, “Hey, this is actually working for us.” So, many years later after we had children and after Alyssa and I had started trying to focus on, “How do we be great parents? What do we want to instill in our children? What do we want to teach them?”

And after we started having those kinds of conversations, we realized, “Hey, we’re doing this thing over here, and, arguably, we’ve developed some skill at it, but we’ve taught our children almost nothing about that. Why is that?” And that’s where that question started. So, we eventually said, “Well, what would this look like? What would this look like if we wanted to take what we’ve learned about goalsetting and accomplishing some seemingly impossible things? And then how do we get our kids to want to do that?”

Because my kids now are teenagers, all of them are teenagers, and at the point in time we started doing any kind of goalsetting with the kids, they were, I think, nine and 11 and approaching teenage years, so they were at the ages where they don’t know necessarily want to do everything that we think is a great idea.

So, we said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it in a crazy environment that we wouldn’t normally do, something that seems so serious, and then we’re just going to try and make it as fun as possible.”

So, we said, “What would that look like?” Well, we had just ordered a new hot tub, so we said, “Okay, we’re going to take the duck, the rubber duck that we got as a gift from the hot tub company, and we are going to do hot tub goalsetting where we pass the duck around and we talk about each person who has the duck what they want to accomplish this year, and what would be fun, what would be amazing, what would be uncomfortable, and talk through those types of questions.” And that’s how it began, and now it’s turned into this regular thing where we meet each month in order to review how we’re doing against our individual goals.

And I think something that’s really wonderful and personally inspiring to me watching my kids go through and really take this and have fun with it and run with it is that they’ve done some things where they set it initially. Like, okay, here, my son, Grayson, my youngest said, “I want to break a world record.” And Alyssa and I did the thing that sometimes you do as a parent where you want to be supportive, we’re like, “Okay, Grayson, all right, that sounds amazing. All right. Fantastic.”

Where I’m thinking, “Okay, maybe we should start it with something else.” So, both Alyssa and I were able to successfully, in that case, suspend our beliefs about that, and say, “Okay. Well, how can you do that, Grayson?” He eventually, over about a two-month period, ended up researching what type of record he might want to break, decided on video games. He decided, “I want to be the first in the world to speed run this particular game.”

Pete Mockaitis
Which one?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Kirby. One of the Kirby games. It’s the most recent one, and, I, for some reason, it’s totally escaping me what’s it called.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so speed run a Kirby game. All right.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yup. So, he did that, and two months in, after he set the goal, he literally was the first person in the world to get this time on that particular Kirby game. So, he has the screenshot to prove it. It’s like it literally said, “You’ve accomplished a world record.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nice to hear.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, but here’s the thing about that. We started realizing that, “Wow, this is incredibly powerful, not just for us but even more so for our children,” because both Alyssa and I, we really didn’t honestly get into things like goalsetting or really figuring out what it is that we wanted to do, wanted to accomplish, what type of life or career do we want to live, and it’s quite powerful once you decide that you want to do something, figuring out the very best way that that can actually happen in reality.

So, Grayson literally broke a world record.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. That’s so cool. And you have seen transformation with many people in your work, your organization, and podcast Happen to Your Career, and now book Happen to Your Career.

Scott Anthony Barlow
And now book, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, transforming folks. And you’ve seen a lot of folks set a career-related goal and go get it. Can you maybe orient us, generally speaking, what is it you do and know that’s fresh and unique?

Scott Anthony Barlow
I think that with the book, it was very much we wanted to be able to reach people a different way because, really, what we do as an organization is we are very focused on helping people find what their own personal version of extraordinary is, what does a wonderful fit look like for them as it relates to their career, and, ultimately, their life because, first and foremost, we can’t really separate out many of the decisions that we make for our career. They have a tendency to be inseparable from the rest of our life.

So, if we keep that in mind, then that means that anything that we are defining as extraordinary for our career is absolutely going to impact all of the other areas of our life. So, we get the opportunity every single day to be able to help people all over the world with defining what they want their life and career to look like, and then going and making that happen, going and getting it, this seemingly impossible thing, making that and turning that into their reality. And that’s what we do every single day both with the book as well as when we get to serve people as clients.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. And so, I would love to get your take, when it comes to people and their careers, just what is at stake for professionals if their career is a great fit versus okay-ish fit?

Scott Anthony Barlow
We all only have so much time on the planet regardless of how you feel spiritually or what you believe. We only have so much time here, and I want to, personally, make sure that, for me, my time is spent in a way that I am able to contribute to other people in the way that I want and serve other people the way that I want, but also building the type of life and career that I want to live.

And I find that not everybody is looking at it that way necessarily. But the point that I would make is that if we’re all, or at least most of us, are going to spend arguably most of our waking hours doing some type of work, some type of service, if you will, then that means that we should probably find a way to do it in a way that is much more meaningful to both us plus the people that we get to work with, around, serve, and that’s how I look at it. I look at it as an opportunity to be able to do life completely differently.

Now, here’s the sad reality. So, although I can say that, and although I believe that, and I think a lot of people might agree with that, depending on which study, depending on which research you look at, it is someplace between half a percent and about 13% of people in the entire world that are just enamored with their work. And that’s dismal.

When I look at that and say, “Almost nobody in the entire world is really enjoying their work and finding it fulfilling in the ways that are wonderful for them, then that’s sad, and that needs to change, and that’s not okay.” And I know that you’re referencing a particular part in the book when you say, “What’s at stake?” We begin the first chapter and we tell a story of Michael. And in Michael’s case, he was working for a pretty large studio, one that most people have definitely heard of, a movie studio.

And that particular studio, he had actually had really a pretty wonderful career up until the last three years that he was there. And he found himself in a new promotion, new situation, that what was once a dream job for him was no longer that dream. It turned into a pretty terrible situation, one that was no longer a fit. And it became really bad, bad to the point in which Michael had considered self-harm, which is not a thing to joke around, but we’ve had many stories like that.

And in Michael’s case, he realized that this was bad for his mental health, it was bad for his physical health, it was ultimately just really a terrible fit for him. And by continuing to stay in that type of situation, he was possibly going to give up the opportunity to have any other type of life, let alone a life at all.

And so, this is a little bit of an extreme situation but it happens much more frequently. What I’ve learned in working with people all over the world is this is something that happens pretty frequently, where people’s health is severely impacted by what most people would look at, and say, “That’s an amazing job. That’s an amazing opportunity,” from the outside looking in.

And in Michael’s case, here’s the real thing that was at stake. If we fast forward about roughly a year to where Michael ended up making a career change, we got the opportunity to meet him and work with him. Alyssa, my wife and I, we had ended up actually meeting him in California and we met at this little diner down in Pacific Beach, and he was telling us, as we were eating banana pancakes, that it was the first time in his life where he had considered that work could potentially be fun. Like, that had never, ever even entered his mind. Like, literally, it was not a possibility for him.

So, he went from this situation where it started out as seemingly wonderful to him, he moved up the ladder really, really quickly, and arguably was good in a lot of very challenging ways. But then it became not so good, and, ultimately, he didn’t realize that was a fun possibility like that but it was something that if he stayed in that situation, it could be not a possibility. I guess that’s the word I’m looking for. I’m looking for a way to even describe that, like what he was feeling and the emotions that he was going through at that particular time. But imagine that if he had stayed. He literally never would’ve found that. So, I think that’s an example of what’s at stake.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful and an eye-opener that folks who may be listening, it’s like, “Fun, huh? It’s going to work for a reason. It’s a job. It’s not play.” And so, that could be a lightbulb for many, like, “Oh, yeah,” some folks really do have fun at work. They find it meaningful, engaging, and life-giving, energizing, so some groovy stuff. And, of course, I think it’s also fair to say, with realism, that no job is 100% euphoric 100% of the time. Is that a fair statement? 

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yes, I do believe that that is a fair statement. And I’m curious with your opinion on that, because there’s been many times where you and I have had pivots and how we personally think about work.

And I remember talking to you, and even our group at one point in time, where it’s like, “Hey, I have checked the box in many of the things that I wanted to work in for a while. My role has changed and this was wonderful, and it’s no longer wonderful anymore.” So, I think I point that out because even if there is a situation that is great, and even if it is a great fit, part of the challenge, part of the reason why figuring this career thing out, figuring out what extraordinary looks like, is so challenging is because it’s actually a moving target as we go through different seasons.

Like, you have three kiddos now, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Do you want the same things that you did when it was 10 years ago with no kids?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m not quite as interested in as much travel and hustle, and it’s like, “Oh, sweet, I’ve got 11 coaching sessions today.” It’s like, “I would not find that sweet were that to happen to me tomorrow.”

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, and I think that’s true for everyone, and I think that that’s normal. The really interesting thing, the thing I find fascinating is that we have a tendency to beat up on ourselves in so many different ways. When that changes, we don’t realize our wants and needs have changed and we’re still trying to shove the, I don’t know, square peg in the round hole, insert your cliché here.

We’re still trying to do the thing, we’re still trying to keep going, we’re still trying to beat our head against the wall, and I don’t really hear too many people talk about, like, it’s actually okay to change and it’s part of the game. But, simultaneously, that’s part of what makes it challenging to figure out what a great situation, what an amazing situation, what we call the unicorn opportunity situation looks like for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about figuring it out. Clarity, we all want it. How do we get it?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Has anybody ever asked you for, or has said to you, “Hey, I’m looking for clarity in this particular area or that area?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Absolutely.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Okay. All right. So, we get that all the time, and the really interesting thing I found about clarity is that when we’re asking for it, we’re often looking at it as a destination. We’re often looking at it as a, “If I just figure out what it is that I want, then I can go and do the thing.” However, when we look into even the origins of the word clarity, we find that it has many of the same root words as declare, the same root word which is clarare, right?

And what that means, when you start to break down the history and the evolution of that word, is that it means to act or an action is required, the action of declaring, the action of declaring something as a priority is really what leads to any kind of clarity. So, so many of us think that we need to go and figure out the thing. We need to get all our ducks in a row. We need to go away and sit in a cabin for a month, and then we will emerge, and we will have clarity, and it’ll be amazing. There’ll be rainbows and butterflies. I’ve got a unicorn back here. It’s going to be awesome. And that’s not actually how it works, as it turns out.

Instead, what we find is actually true is that clarity comes from the simple act of declaring something as a priority for you, declaring something as more important, which obviously takes courage. It takes courage to be able to say, “My wife is more important than all of these other things.” I think many of us would say that but very few of us, I find, are willing to act on that in a way that takes courage. So, I’ll give you a quick example from my past.

Like, if my wife calls me right now, I’m literally going to pick up the phone. There she is right there on the phone. Not everybody can see that but if she calls right now, I’m going to pick that up because she is the most important thing in my world. Is that weird, as in socially kind of unacceptable? I would say so. Probably.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m going to light you up. Well, I wouldn’t because we’re pals.

Scott Anthony Barlow
It’s a good thing we know each other, right?

Pete Mockaitis
But, yeah, other people would say, “What the heck, dude? Seriously?”

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, and that feels, honestly, when that happens, very uncomfortable for me. Also, if I’m going to behave like my wife is the most important thing in the world to me, then I should treat it as such. So, that’s a really small example but think about what goes into that. I have to think through, first of all, “What is most important to me?” And then I have to consciously make the decision that that is, in fact, the most important thing. In this case, the most important person, my wife. And then I have to be able to commit to that in a way that allows me to act as such.

And that’s part of what we’re talking about when we say, “What does it take to get to clarity?” Clarity allows you to be able to act, not action before clarity. Most of us think that we’re going to get clarity, and then we’re going to go do the thing. But, instead, it happens exactly the opposite way, “I’m going to declare what’s most important, and then that allows me to be able to make movement on whatever that most important thing is.” So, it is literally the opposite of how almost everybody in the world thinks about it.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to doing that declaring and then living as such in harmony, in integrity with those declarations, might you discover through a little bit of trial and error that what you declared was actually not the most important thing to you, it’s like, “Huh, actually now that I’m in it, I’m realizing,” not this to be the case with your wife, “I’m realizing that this is not as important to me as perhaps I thought it should be, or is, or once was. Things have evolved”?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah. Short answer is yes. I have many examples of that. But I’m curious, have you had that experience in the past? Have you gone through and realized that, “Hey, this thing that I thought that was most important one way or another, one area of life or another, is actually less important than what I think”? What are some of your examples? What are the Pete examples?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. I think that that has come about…well, it’s so funny, like being awesome at your job. So, we have a whole show on this. So, I think that’s pretty important but I don’t believe that’s the number one most important thing in life. And so, it’s funny, when I think about other podcasts, I think that I would say they’re sort of like a pecking order or a hierarchy that I would rather folks listen to my show than true crime or sports or news, like for their own edification, I think. We’re going to do more of that for you than those things.

But if someone is listening to a show about how to be more kind, or spiritual, or healthy, or solving like a really challenging thing that makes their life and others miserable, I would rather you spend your time listening to that because I think that is more important than being awesome at your job. And, in fact, many of our guests do have a little bit of a mental health slant because there’s a real rich carryover in terms of if you’re mentally healthy, then you’re making better decisions, and you’re energized, and you’re able to bring good effort to stuff, so it’s like Yin-Yang, like reinforcing virtuous cycle thingy going down here.

So, I don’t think it’s either/or but I would say that, for example, I used to think, I don’t know if you remember a show “Boy Meets World.”

Scott Anthony Barlow
I do. I do. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m about to drop a spoiler here.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, dear.

Pete Mockaitis
But when Topanga gives up, I think, it was Harvard, her top dream school, to go be with Cory, I thought that was so dumb, I thought that was a horrible decision, I was like, “You’re young. What do you even know about love?” And I guess I think I’m high school-college age too when this comes about, and I just thought that was bananas because, at that time in my life, career really was sort of number one. And I hadn’t been in a relationship that serious, I suppose, as to make me think that I would give up such a career opportunity for a person. So, that was me then.

And now I think, “Well, yeah, if that’s like your soulmate, or the person you’re destined to be with, or someone who’s just really clearly the one, well, absolutely, you should probably give up just about everything.” So, that happened. I remember once I was at a Subway sandwich shop, and Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” was playing, and I started tearing up, it’s like, “What is even going on here?”

Scott Anthony Barlow
“What is happening right now?”

Pete Mockaitis
I think I was…like, if you listen to the lyrics, you hear sort of the story arc, and it’s about like that kind of a transformation. There is someone who is all about their career, independent, taking care of business, winning. And then she came to realize, “Oh, there’s something else that’s even more important.” So, yeah, I think that what you say about things being a moving target is dead-on in terms of there’s a time and a place.

And Ramit Sethi talks about this too in terms of like there’s a season where it’s like, “Growth, baby. Bring it on. More, more, more, more, more. I want the biggest stuff, the toughest challenge, and I’m just going to pour myself into work or whatever.” And then there’s a time where that season is no longer suiting you, and it might come back a little later. That’s the game.

Scott Anthony Barlow
First of all, can I just say that I love that you started that whole section of the conversation with “Boy Meets World.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you may.

Scott Anthony Barlow
And, second of all, I think that there is this stigma, at least in much of North America and some areas of Europe, too, but there’s this stigma that it’s not okay to change, or that one way is the right way, or the direction that we keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
“And you’re a flip-flopper. We don’t like our politicians flip-flopping. We don’t like quitters or flip-floppers.”

Scott Anthony Barlow
No, no quitters, yes. And so, interestingly enough, the main reason that I have this company now is because I quit and went from one thing to the next thing, to the next thing, to the point where, we counted it up the other day, I’ve had, in the last 20 or so years, I’ve had 20 different roles, and all of that set of experience of being able to go through many, many different things came from quitting. And, actually, for me, personally, I felt a long time, like that was an inadequacy in so many different ways because it felt like as soon as things got really hard, or whatever, then I would get bored and then I’d run off to the next thing.

And although there was some level of truth to that, that wasn’t necessarily the full reason but that’s the story that I was saying in my head for myself. And it was furthered by the fact that that is the message that we unintentionally put out in society. 

Pete Mockaitis
So, when it comes to clarity, you said one way we get there is we declare the priorities, and then act in alignment with them. What are some your other favorite questions, practices, exploratory activities that can yield oodles of insight for the time we spend doing them?

Scott Anthony Barlow
So, first of all, let me give you a high-level overview of the process we often use with our clients, and the reason that we do this is, I mentioned earlier that it’s really difficult to be able to separate out your career from other things. When you plug yourself in, if you think about plugging yourself into a particular career choice, whether that’s the people that you work with, whether that’s the organization that you’ve said yes to for a job opportunity, whether that is whatever you’re getting paid, all of those things impact other areas of your life from your schedule to the pressures that you feel or don’t feel, to everything else.

So, it becomes really important that we’re looking at all of these things as a whole. So, I wanted to be able to say that first, and that’ll give you some insight as to why we often are approaching activities that appear to be more holistic or addressing other areas of your life even though we often focus on career. So, one of those things is, initially, we try to help people create what we call an ideal career profile. And really just think about that as literally what it sounds like. It’s a profile of what makes up your ideal career.

Now, when I say that, often people are thinking about occupation, and I’m not talking about occupation. I’m talking about the things like, “How you are utilizing your strengths within your work opportunities? What amount of money do you need to make in order to satisfy your other goals that maybe aren’t even financially related? Who are the types of people that you want to spend your time around knowing that the choice that you make and plug into is going to impact who you spend your time with?”

So, starting out, we put together that ideal career profile, and I’ll give you a few questions here momentarily, but then what we’re going to do with it is we’re going to take that profile, which is an educated guess, and then we’re going to test it out. The reason we test it out is, generally, we find that when people come to us and they’re wanting to make some kind of career change, and they’re wanting to move to a better situation, a more ideal situation, then they also are simultaneously not wanting to take significant risks, because a lot of times they are not fresh out of college, if you will, necessarily. A lot of times, they may have already determined that, “The career that I’ve pursued is no longer a fit in one way or another,” so there’s an aversion to risk.

And one of the ways that we can avoid risks while still getting wonderful input is by creating a small series of experiments in order to determine, “Is that hypothesis, that ideal career profile, actually the right direction? Am I giving some road signs indicating that I am, in fact, headed in the right direction for me?” versus just making another career change, or going back to school, or putting all the time and effort in only to realize that the names and the faces have changed, but it’s the exact same situation. So, that’s no good for anybody.

So, here is a couple things that we use specifically. Number one, if we’re evaluating strengths, let’s say, let’s take that as scenario, one question that is my favorite, and maybe you can answer this, too, or we can answer it together, “What do you find yourself gravitating to that isn’t actually a part of your job but shows up over and over again? Now, is that I’m supposed to be doing these spreadsheets and these financial projections but I find myself wandering the halls and going and asking my neighbor what they were barbecuing the other day because I’m fascinated about what do people eat?”

Whatever it is, what do you find yourself doing over and over again? That’ll give clues or indications, especially if it’s not a part of your paid role. And what I find is that, as you dig into that type of question, often you start to observe some patterns. So, let me ask you that really quick. When you think about your past opportunities, roles, paid, unpaid, whatever else, what do you keep gravitating towards, Pete, that really didn’t have much to do with what you’re supposed to be doing at the time?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s funny is I’m think about consulting back in the day, I really loved recruiting, which was part of…all of us was supposed to have a part of recruiting, but I really loved being able to go to a career fair to being able to do case interviews or help people prepare for their case interviews.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I see where this is going.

Pete Mockaitis
Or more people-y stuff, like, where there’s an intern, I got to play manager just a little bit with a fresh intern. I thought that was really cool in terms of helping them learn stuff. And so, I was having fun with that for sure. And I think I also learned this isn’t just about skills or strengths, but just the environment. I remember, once I was so excited to be able to take a trip by myself to Kansas City where some very hallowed terminals where I could access some data that was, I guess, air-gapped from the cloud to go there and get the data.

And I was really stoked by this trip, I thought, “That’s kind of weird. I’m traveling somewhere alone to do a fairly manual repetitive task, and I’m stoked about it.” And what I was stoked about was the autonomy in terms of, “You know what, I can eat what I want when I want when I don’t have to check in with the whole team.” Like, “Hey, so you’re going to do lunch. Oh, okay, we’re going to wait. Okay, we’re going to wait for the senior people because they want to eat with us but they’re not ready to eat yet, so we’re just going to wait some more, but I really want to eat now but I can’t eat now. So, we don’t know how long this is going to take but it might be four minutes, it might be 40 minutes. I’m hungry now.”

It’s so funny. I don’t know, but being able to choose when and what I eat during my work day felt very exciting.

Scott Anthony Barlow
So, that’s kind of fascinating because now you have, in some ways, the ultimate set of choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, I like the autonomy and I like the people development. And go figure, here I am in a very autonomous role doing a lot of people development.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I am so shocked. So shocked. And by that, I mean not shocked at all. But I think that that is just one of many questions. And what I find is that none of these questions yield the ultimate answer. None of the questions yield the “magic bullet” or the “magic pill” or whatever. But they do all give clues, and those clues lead to a-has, those clues lead to being able to understand yourself and what you need in a different way.

And what I find is that a better way to think about uncovering the right type of career, or career fit for you, which may not be occupational, it might be about the environment, it might be about some of those other areas I mentioned earlier, is to think about it more as a CSI or detective-type of approach where you find one clue that helps you get a little further along but it leads to another clue, which leads to another clue, which leads to another clue. And, eventually, we solve some version of the case, which then leads to a new case.

And that is a much, much better analogy for how to think about your career in a healthy way where it’s going to continue to evolve, it’s going to continue to change, and just because you climbed up the mountain in one way or another doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. It’s an ongoing, living, breathing set of decisions. And for some people, that can feel a little bit scary but I think that it can also be really, really empowering because, take your example here, like you probably, if we talked 20 years ago, would you have known all of those, “Well, I need people development or I need autonomy, and everything else”? I’m guessing probably…

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Not.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I might have some clues in terms of I really had a lot fun when I’m speaking to groups. And so, that’s true, I do, but the topic makes all the difference.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. If I were talking about how to use a software program, that might be moderately energizing for me. But if I were talking about “Do this and you’re going to be way more productive and happy with your work,” that’s way more exciting for me to be talking about.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I agree. Me, too. I can only get so far. So, a topic for me makes a massive difference as well, but for some other people, it might just be about the act. For some other people, it might be about who they’re talking to. And for still other people, it might be about “Am I getting to speak with people one on one versus large groups, versus communities of people, versus any other way that you might slice that up?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’m thinking about the nature of the impact, like, “Are you talking to…?” “I’m just helping rich people get richer,” and that really bothers you versus you don’t care at all. That doesn’t bother you at all, it doesn’t even occur to you, versus, “Oh, I’m really helping disadvantaged communities,” or whatever. So, the who could be, or it’s sort of like the elite students were really engaged and fired up with it and challenging, like that’s exciting.

Or, they are very much not elite students who, like, really need your help and you feel a great sense of purpose for having assisted them and really met them and made a difference that you feel more palpable. So, yeah, that who, I think, has all kinds of angles and flavors that provide cool clues right there.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, the important part is finding the right flavor for you because, in the book, we talk about what we call the seven keys to fulfillment, and there are areas that create more or less fulfilling careers, or feelings of fulfillment. However, if you’re talking about the who or how you work with people – is it in a one-on-one format versus large groups format – it’s a very different from a person-to-person basis. And finding that right variety, that right recipe is also very, very different from person to person.

So, I think that to go back to, say, how you contribute to others, as an example, the important part there is not just who you’re helping but, if we look at all of the data and the research, the real question is, “Are you helping people in a way that feels like you are helping people?” I know that sounds a little bit weird because, arguably, any job in the world is probably helping, like we can make a case that it’s helping people.

Whether you are at a movie theater, you are a VP of finance, you are taking out the trash, like in some way or another, it’s helping people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it feels like, and you can see a direct connection between how you’re helping other people, and that’s the real key. So, finding out how it feels, the right type of how for you is really what we’re after here.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, Scott, boy, we could talk for hours about this, but I want to hear, tell me, any top do’s or don’ts that we absolutely must hear from you before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think the number one do is run towards something. So many people are running away from something, running away from a not-great boss, running away from a situation that doesn’t feel like a great fit, but they haven’t actually taken the time to figure out what it is that they actually want. So, to be able to run to something, you really have to take the time, effort, energy to identify all of the areas and all of the pieces and parts that make up your ideal, otherwise, that’s going to be impossible. You won’t be able to run to something.

And the disadvantage, if you’re running away from something and not towards something that’s clearly defined, is you’re automatically going to be settling by default. So, run to something, that’s number one. And then, number two, experiment. We briefly mentioned that experimenting, or the idea of experimentation, however, I think that’s so critical as it relates to your career because it takes all of the risks, or at least most of the risks and perceived risks out of the equation.

So, so many people don’t career-change because they’re like, “Well, it feels so risky,” and in some ways it is. However, if you take small steps and a small amount of work to validate that you’re heading the right direction through a well-crafted experiment, that doesn’t even have to take a significant period of time, then once you get those road signs indicating that you are heading in the right direction, then it can reduce a significant amount of that risk. So, I think that’s thing number two.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Now, well-crafted experiment, can you give us a couple quick examples of what that might look, sound, feel like?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah. We have helped people craft hundreds of different types of experiments but there are some that are more common than others, and I’ll give you a couple just really quick examples. One is the social Goldilocks, another is what we call the volunteer, another is the paid researcher.

So, the volunteer is what it sounds like, where you’re actually volunteering your time or energy either with another organization or even, potentially, inside your organization, and that’s where we might move into the paid researcher. Now, the benefits of doing either of those are getting to trial out the work without necessarily a full-time commitment, and understanding the feedback from that experience about whether or not you’re heading the right direction.

Now, the side benefit from that, and I think this is part of what makes a well-crafted experiment, in my opinion, is it’s not just for the feedback. But a well-crafted experiment also allows you to experience multiple benefits. Quick example, we had…personally we were working with…her name is Stephanie, and she volunteered at a marketing organization. She thought she might be interested in marketing, and volunteered with a local chapter of a marketing organization, met a lot of people and two things ended up coming from that.

One, she was able to land a copywriting gig, a small contract-based copywriting gig that didn’t take a lot of her time but allowed her to experiment in a paid way, and that’s what we call the paid researcher. A way you can do the paid researcher. And the other side benefit from that was she discovered she didn’t really like marketing by volunteering for that particular organization.

So, she eliminated an entire area that she suspected that she wanted to move into, and, instead, another area she was exploring at the same time was organizational communications. And some of the connections that she had made through that marketing organization ended up causing her to be introduced to other people that led to communications-type of experiences. So, there’s a quick couple examples.

Social Goldilocks, I mentioned that one at the beginning, that’s the idea of…well, you’re familiar with Goldilocks, of course, like, “This chair is too big. This porridge is too cold, too hot. This corner office is too large,” whatever. But the idea of the social Goldilocks, instead of doing what people call informational interviews, how can you identify either roles or organizations or other types of opportunities that might be a good fit?

And go talk to people in those roles, or in those organizations, for relatively short periods of time, even as little as 10 or 15 minutes, and learn about what makes them enjoy the role, what they think are relevant experiences to be successful in that role. Learn about what they love about their organization, what they don’t love about their organization.

And the idea here is not just the interaction itself, but that you can string together many different types of interactions with, say, 10 or 15 or 20 people in a relatively short period of time, and then you have a set of feedback where you can start making decisions from, “Should I dive further into this strategy-type role that I suspected that I love? And now I talked to three different people, and I’m getting similar feedback. And I think that it might be worth diving further in.”

So, these are all really quick examples of ways to do two things – get that feedback, and, simultaneously, build relationships at the same time, which, at this point, we don’t have very many computers hiring people. It does happen occasionally, but for the most part, it’s still people that hire people and make those hiring decisions, so relationships are critical when it comes to that. So, there’s a few different examples.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Scott Anthony Barlow
This one gets attributed to Da Vinci a lot of the time, and I’m assuming it was not originally in English, but the English translation comes out to be something that, “I often observe that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and allowed things to happen. Instead, they went and happened to them.”

And although it gets attributed to Da Vinci, I believe it actually, as near as I can tell, comes from Da Vinci’s mentor, and Da Vinci ended up repeating it many, many times and that’s in some of his books.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Scott Anthony Barlow
There is a huge body of work around strengths, and what Martin Seligman originally called signature strengths now. And so, this is not one particular set of research but the body as a whole has really expanded over the last 30 years, and it is fascinating.

When you get to spend as little as one or two more hours a day working in your strengths and operating in your strengths, there are so many benefits from smiling more in a given day, all the way to be more productive, to having health benefits, or being able to avoid health risks.

So, that’s fascinating to me, personally, and it’s really interesting, some of the lengths that have nothing to do with what people perceive to be strengths, and, in some cases, nothing to do with what people perceive work but that impact overall quality of life when you spend very small amounts of time more, comparatively, to what you might be right now focusing on areas that fit your strengths. So, that’s my favorite body of research as a whole.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Here’s one book that changed my mind on quite a few different things. It’s called 80/20 Sales and Marketing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, Perry Marshall. He was on the show.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Yeah, Perry Marshall. Okay, so this was useful even if you care not about sales and marketing whatsoever. The idea behind 80/20 and something that tipped me off to a different idea that I don’t think that was said in that book but it sparked a lot of things for me, because the quick bit of 80/20, where it originally comes from, and now it’s pretty popularized, I would say, but the Pareto Principle is another thing that it’s called, where the idea of having 20% of the inputs produced 80% of the outputs.

So, Pareto saw that when he was raising peas way back when. He noticed that some of the peapods on certain pea plants had very few peas, and on 20% of the plants, they actually had roughly 80%. They produced 80% of the peas. And he started observing this all over the place in nature, this natural phenomenon.

However, what doesn’t get talked about that the book turned me onto is if you take that top 20%, it has its own top 20%, the 4% that produces 64% of the results. So, that idea is fascinating to me, and I’ve spent the last, almost seven, eight years really trying to figure out, “What is the 4% that really moves the needle so that you can just let the rest go in so many different areas of life?”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Superhuman, which you turned me onto.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s all good.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, my goodness, love Superhuman. We have it for almost my entire team now, yeah. Are you still using it?

Pete Mockaitis
I am.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Oh, my goodness. Thank you for that. Like, lifechanging in so many different ways. A whole different way to do email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Scott Anthony Barlow
I think my favorite habit recently is fasting till afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I tried that and really didn’t like it.

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, it’s not for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Glad it’s working for you.

Scott Anthony Barlow
And I really didn’t like it until maybe, I don’t know, probably after a month in. Then now it’s actually become a wonderful thing that adds energy, where the first probably two weeks, I’m like, “This is terrible. Who would do this?” So, not for everyone but that’s my current favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Scott Anthony Barlow
The idea of identifying what you want so that you can then go and ask for what you want, and I find that people who ask for what they want are very often more frequently getting what they want.

So, that really simple concept has changed my life in so many different ways, which means that I need to have ownership and understanding around not just where I’m running to, which we mentioned earlier, but what it is that I, in fact, want and what’s great for me and my highest priority, which we mentioned clarity earlier, too, and it all ties back to that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to connect or hear more about you, where should they go?

Scott Anthony Barlow
Well, certainly, HappenToYourCareer.com, and we have, of course, a podcast by the same name, Happen to Your Career, in all the places where podcasts are played, so certainly over there. But I think that for people that really want to get started in figuring out what could be a next amazing step, what extraordinary could look like, and utilizing much of the concepts that we just talked about, go to FigureItOut.co where you get an opportunity to sign up for an 8-day email course where we send you an email each day, and it asks you a few questions that will begin to allow you to figure out what truly is your north, what is your compass.

We’ve had almost 50,000 people at this point through that particular course. And we’ve got so many people sending emails and feedback over the years that it’s helped them get started in figuring out what they want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Scott, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and success as you’re happening to your career.

Scott Anthony Barlow
I appreciate it.

804: A Recruiter’s Insider Tips for Acing the Job Search with Zeinab Kahera

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Zeinab Kahera shares the best job search practices learned from her decade of experience in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring in multiple industries.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A behind-the-scenes look into what recruiters want to see 
  2. Powerful questions to identify your unique expertise
  3. The most important thing to communicate in your resume 

About Zeinab

Zeinab Kahera is a career specialist, who specializes in working with people to amplify their voice while utilizing expert techniques to build a cover letter and resume that is professional, strong, and best represents them.  

Her professional expertise comes from a decade of experience in recruitment, interviewing, and hiring in multiple industries. She has also served in Human Resources and various management roles including for a Fortune 500 company.   

Zeinab earned her Bachelor in Business Management from Georgia State University and a Master of Education in Counseling with a concentration in Student Affairs from the University of West Georgia.   

 Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Zeinab Kahera Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Zeinab, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Zeinab Kahera
Hello, Pete. How are you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m doing well. I’m doing well.

Zeinab Kahera
Very good. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to speak to your audience and to speak to you and, hopefully, drop some gems this afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we love gems.

Zeinab Kahera
Or this morning or whenever they’re listening, the evening.

Pete Mockaitis
We love gems. Well, first, I was curious to hear about you’ve lived in four different countries. Whoa! What are they and what have you learned from that?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes, I have. So, I started off in Saudi Arabia. My parents actually started off in Sudan. That was their first country but I was born in…or I moved to Saudi Arabia as an infant. And then, after that, came back to the States, did Egypt, lived in Egypt for a couple of years. I was older then so I remember that. I don’t remember Saudi too much. And then, obviously, the US, is one of the countries because I’m from the States. Now, I live in Canada.

So, what I will say in terms of what it taught me was I have such an appreciation for just the human experience and that I’ve seen so many levels. I’ve seen an excess of wealth, I’ve seen an excess of poverty, but the thing that kind of stayed the same was that people just really wanted to have a good life and do right things. So, I appreciate that perspective from living in those different countries.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very cool. Yes. And I also want to get your perspective on, so you’ve been on both sides of the hiring table: hiring, being hired, negotiating, being negotiated. And in so doing, I want to hear any interesting or surprising things that you’ve picked up along the way that you just found really striking, like, “Huh, never would’ve guessed, but now that I know, that’s super powerful.”

Zeinab Kahera
Yes. So, what’s interesting is that I recently went through an interview process again, and this time was so different for me because, in the past when I had been looking for jobs, I was unemployed either through layoffs, the last time was COVID, this time I was working now.

I think if I could pinpoint, the biggest lesson that I share with people a lot is that there is a space for you to feel empowered in your job search. I think a lot of times people feel like we have to cater to or at the beckoning call of the hiring manager. And at the end of the day, or a colleague said to me that managers really just want to hire nice people who are knowledgeable and skilled. But that nice people part is really important.

And so, leaning into for myself and embracing, “Hey, I am a nice person. Let me show it more,” and not be caught up in my fear and my anxiety of the interview process really helped me to feel empowered in my job search. So, yeah, that’s, I think, a perspective that I recently garnered.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I do buy that in terms of just like showing you’re a normal real human being as opposed to sometimes it feels like we enter into this, like, professional mode. Like, I remember being at career fairs when I was recruiting, and folks will say things like, “Hello, I’m looking to combine my interest in finance and accounting, and find a rewarding career in which I can dah, dah, dah synergy,” I don’t know. And it’s like, “Really, is that what you’re looking for?” I mean, it feels a little too, I don’t know, PR’d. It just doesn’t feel real and authentic.

And that might be true, like, “Yeah, I like accounting, I like finance, and I want to put them together and do some things,” and yet the presentation just felt a little bit like, “Oh, I’m not quite talking to a person so much as I am talking to talking points.”

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. What came up when you were sharing was it lacks authenticity, and I think that’s a thing that sacrifices a lot in people’s job searches is that they don’t feel like they can be their genuine selves. They have to be an image of what they feel this professional should look like. I’ve hired in various roles, and the most recent one was for a web developer bootcamp, and I was part of the hiring process for our career coaches.

And I just remembered the biggest thing for me was, one, obviously, how they articulated their skills, that they have good examples of workplace experiences. Were they reflective in their experiences? But also, were they allowing themselves to just be themselves, and maybe make a quirky joke? I had a colleague who we interviewed, and he had technical issues with Zoom, and most people would just kind of like freak out, and he just laughed. He’s like, “Did you all do this to me on purpose?” and that was like such a seller for us because he allowed himself to just be in the moment. But then what sealed the deal was that he knew his stuff, he had the experience, he showed great examples.

Pete Mockaitis
That reminds of that viral video of the judge and the lawyer and the filter, it was like, “I’m right here, judge. I’m not a cat.” “I am not a cat.”

Zeinab Kahera
Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I also want to get a take on, okay, here we are, summer 2022, there are murmurs of recession upon us, how quickly the times changed. Can you tell us, okay, given that, anything we should be doing differently, thinking about differently, staying, looking around, negotiating?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. So, when I hear people say the word recession, obviously, there is like an anxiety or like a discomfort that come from that word, but I remember the recession of 2008. And I just remember I actually got a job during that time. And so, there are people who are still getting jobs. I think that we don’t stop believing that we can get jobs. We just make adjustments to our strategy.

So, regardless of the times that we’re in in terms of recession, we should always be having the job search that allows you to have human contact first. So, everything is online now, we’re all applying online, so there is an influx of applications that are coming in. And companies are like, “Well, we don’t want to pay somebody to look at 350 applications,” so they’re using these softwares, these applicant-tracking systems, and so people are getting filtered out.

And so, your goal is, “How do I bypass that wall, that technical wall, and I get an opportunity to talk to people?” And in a time of a recession, that’s even more important because of the fact that you are going to have more people who potentially will be laid off. So, how do you differentiate yourself from those other 200, 300 people who are applying for the same job? So, are you sending a cold email? We also call them intro emails. Are you utilizing your personal network, not being afraid to ask for help? Those are the things that help, especially in rough times in the market.

And, yes, it’s okay to look for another job if you have a job. If there are jobs posted in your industry that could be potential growth opportunities for you, go for it. Obviously, we’ve seen some companies that have decided to freeze their hiring. But I do think that there are still jobs being created every day that are not going to be eliminated.

But I think, on a personal note, just to end on this, you have to assess where you are in your personal life. If you feel like, “You know what, I just want to just kind of ride this wave, not make any moves until things kind of quiet down,” that’s perfectly okay as well. It’s not a very black and white decision-making process. There’s a lot of gray with it. So, some people are like, “You know what, I’m not in love with my job but things seem to be okay with my company. I’m not hearing any hints of layoffs. Let me just stick this out for a little bit and see what opportunities are created in the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about assessing kind of your personal situation, how do you think broadly about assessing what is your next best career move?

Zeinab Kahera
So, as a career coach, I’m really big on the self-awareness piece, and I’m really big on assessing what your needs and your values are. With my clients, that’s one of the first things that I challenge them to do, is to look at, “What is it that you currently need and you value?” And so, I think that when it comes to assessing your situation, you have to have that reflection piece. You can’t be making decisions based on external factors, what everybody else is doing, because now you’re allowing other people to dictate your life journey, in a nutshell.

So, to give an example, I had a client who was doing pretty well in their job, didn’t really need to go anywhere else. They worked in nonprofit so they were in an ED role but they kept seeing these opportunities come up. And so, for them, I asked them, “Okay, so where is the challenge for you?” And they’re like, “Well, I like what I do and nothing is broken. Why fix it?” And I said, “Okay, so then why are you contemplating leaving?” And they said, “I believe in the potential of the future, and if other people want to work with me, I feel like why don’t I see what’s possible.”

And I said, “Well, what’s most important to you?” And they said, “I really like growth. I like learning more. I like not feeling stagnant. I like the risk of trying something new.” And I said, “Well, that sounds like something that you value enough that it’s worth it to you.” And so, that’s kind of the conversations that we have in terms of internally assessing where your situation is.

Now, the other external factors are your financial situation, your security. What potential debt do you have or currently have? Are you trying to position yourself with a house or a family or all of those factors involved? But it always starts with self. It always starts with fulfilling what your needs and your values are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in needs and values, you talked about learning growth, you’ve talked about financial. What are some of the other big items that pop up frequently that we’d want to assess?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes. So, the idea of needs and values came up because I actually did an assessment by, I think her name is Carolyn Weir. W-E-I-R, is definitely her last name, and she created the needs and values assessment. And so, some of the things that are evaluated are “Do you have a need for having a sense for accomplishments, certainty?” I’m looking at my list that I have for myself. “How much do you value safety, order?”

Then also, “Are you someone that likes to teach? Are you someone who likes to be supportive, an educator, spirituality?” So, you see how it’s very specific interpersonal elements that are defining the needs and values. Those are the things that I would have my clients assess in terms of assessing where you are in your life and your decision-making process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, let’s say, we’ve got some clarity on that and there is an opportunity that piques our interests, generally speaking, what are the things that make you interested in a candidate versus you just sort of pass right on by them?

Zeinab Kahera
I personally value someone who has a good career story. I think that a good career story shows growth, it shows adversity, it shows resilience, it shows courage. And those can define a holistic experience for someone. And so, when I’m interviewing candidates, I’m not just looking for check-off the box, “Can you do skill one, two, and three?” It’s like, “Okay, in your journey to get to where you are right now, what were some things that you had to overcome to get here? Or, in your last role, like where were you challenged? And what were the tools or resources or people that helped you, supported you to overcome those challenges?”

Another thing that I think is valuable, not to sound like a broken record, but it’s really important, is just someone who allows themselves to be themselves and show their genuine side and laugh and show their kindness or their character. Maybe even show a little bit of vulnerability. Why are those important? Because that’s who you’re going to be working with every day. You’re not going to be working with just the resume paper, words on the resume. Like, there’s a human being behind that, and that’s who you’re going to have to problem-solve with, maybe even manage crises with, come up with creative innovative ideas with.

And so, specifically, in the interview process, I’m looking for the best expression of your personality. And one thing, I want to mention this, because this is really important to me working in tech, I’ve had the opportunity to really have good conversations about neurodiversity, especially individuals specifically who are on the spectrum.

And so, the communication of personality may present a different way as someone who is not on the spectrum. But I’ve found, even with the clients that I’ve worked with, who self-disclosed that they were on the spectrum, it was almost like a puzzle and we just had to move some pieces around, and, boom, they were able to find themselves and their voice and be who they are and feel comfortable with who they are.

So, I’m saying that to say that the advice that I’m giving, it does exist for everyone. It’s not going to necessarily look as cookie-cutter as we want but it does exist. And then one more thing because I talked a bit about the interviews, but specifically on paper with the resumes, I’m really someone, and even LinkedIn, I’m really someone who values individuals who, you can tell, that they’ve put the work in. And not the work necessarily just in their career but just how they present themselves.

I tell the clients I work with all the time, “If your resume is mediocre, like it doesn’t show accomplishment-focused language, it’s not even showing keywords, it’s not celebrating your achievements, that, to me, is an articulation of how you feel about yourself. So, why would I want to hire someone who’s presenting that they don’t really feel that confident in themselves?”

It’s not faking it till you make it because you have to actually believe what you’re saying, but it is like challenging how your truth about yourself and your perspective of yourself, and allowing yourself to celebrate the accomplishments, how far you’ve come, the skills and the knowledge that you’ve gained, and then taking that, putting that on paper, putting that on your LinkedIn profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s where I was going to go next, is you talked a bit about one’s unique expertise. How do you recommend we figure that out for ourselves and showcase it well?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. My litmus test for that is, “What can you teach other people to do really well?” And the word expertise makes people feel very uncomfortable because they feel like it has to be somebody in a suit and they look very prim and proper, Just like this sensationalized image of an expert. But it’s like, “What is the thing that people depend on you to get done? What is the thing that if someone had to be trained on it they would go to you? You are the point of contact, the subject matter expert.”

So, if you’re trying to evaluate that, I would sit down and look at the work that you do, “What is the thing that just clicks for you, it comes very naturally, you could do it with your eyes closed?” And here’s an extra thing, that there is a space for it, “What do you enjoy doing, too?” because most likely, the thing that you are really good at is the thing that you enjoy doing, so much that you’re willing to invest the time and the energy to get better at it. So, that’s a way of evaluating what your expertise is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s a beautiful sort of a feedback loop cycle going on there, like work-fun-good. It’s like, “Ooh, I’m working on this thing and it’s fun, so I’m going to keep doing it. And then, hey, I’ve done it for a while, so now I’m good.” And then it just kind of snowballs in a good way.

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah, there are sometimes debates about like, “Does this dream job or this ultimate career exist?” and I’m the person who believes that it does. And one of the books that I read is called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and he talks about this idea of your zone of genius. So, below your zone of genius is your zone of excellence. So, your zone of excellence, you do it really well but it doesn’t really bring you any fulfillment. Your zone of genius, you do it really well, it brings you fulfillment so much that if you do it for free, meaning like you didn’t have to worry about other things, you would just do it.

So, to give an example. For me, I discovered that coaching is in my zone of genius, like I am a very empathetic person, I communicate well, I can really leverage and maximize one-on-one conversations with people, and I get such a sense of fulfillment from being able to help people, specifically with their careers, and help them navigate an aspect of their lives that can be overwhelming. And I did it for free before I even started getting paid. I just started helping people for free. So, in terms of making that connection back to your expertise, it can also be something that that’s in your zone of genius, that you’re a genius at.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And you mentioned a mediocre resume. Can you dig in a little bit and tell us what makes the difference between mediocre and exceptional? Or, what are the key mistakes that show up again and again that we should put the kibosh on?

Zeinab Kahera
So, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel because there is definitely very good advice about resumes that I think people should listen to, but the first thing is just language. How are you speaking about yourself? I’m very much someone who believes in being bold and almost audacious in some aspects in terms of how you talk about yourself, “So, I’m qualified to do this.” Like, we’re talking about their profile. “I’m qualified to do this. I have a proven record of doing this. I’m an expert at this.” You’d be surprised so many people feel uncomfortable using that language.

Then when you start getting into your actual work experience, task list. If you’re writing a task list, that’s not demonstrating the impact that you’ve made. The language that you use has to demonstrate impact. So, for an example, as a career coach, if I’m writing a task list, I could say, “Meet with clients one on one for 30 minutes.” Or, “Provide feedback upon request,” or, “Schedule appointments on a weekly basis.”

You see how it just falls flat. So, if I want to be impactful though, I’ll use language like, “Responsible for supporting the career development and growth of web developers and data analysts by providing one-on-one coaching, interview prep, as well as,” “feedback that is attainable,” or something like that. It’s always rough when I try to get it off the head, but my point is to say, I told you what I did and how I did it.

If there’s a basic thing that you want to demonstrate in your resume bullet, “What did you do and what was the impact that you made? How did you make that impact that you said you did?” So, if you were like number five out of ten in sales for your division, what were a couple of things that you did to help you get to that point? And that language also tells a story. So, it’s not just, “I did A, B, C, and D.” It’s like, “A, B, C, and D helped this company do this,” because companies that are looking to hire you, they want to know, “How are you going to make a change? How are you going to solve a problem that they have?” and they can’t do that if you just tell them what your to-do list was.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I heard some great advice associated with put the achievement or impact results number at the first part of your bullet, and then the “by coaching, developing, mentoring,” and how you did it at the second part because…and it’s so funny because, in my own resume, I said, “Oh, okay, I guess I can give that a try. Does it really matter? I’m just changing a little bit of the…” and it really did it because, as a reader of that resume, it’s very easy, like, “Okay, you did a bunch of stuff. All right,” versus, “Oh, you achieved that? Like, I’m intrigued. How did you pull that off?” “Oh, well, let me tell you.”

It’s sort of like this sequence follows my attention, like, “Ooh, that’s awesome. How did you do that?” “Oh, now I know,” versus, “Okay, you did a bunch of things.” It’s like, “Oh, and, by the way, that resulted in $3 million of savings.” It’s like, “I might miss it because it’s at the end of the bullet.” And do you have the stats on like how long a human looks at a resume?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. If you’re lucky, you’ll get them for 60 seconds but it’s really like less and they skim. So, you mentioned creating interest. So, a good resume from the beginning, creates curiosity, which entices the reader to keep going and going and going. So, I’m a big fan of profile, sometimes the word is a summary, but I like to use the language profile. So, that’s a small paragraph, two to three sentences, introducing yourself to the reader.

And then you go in and you’re like, “Here are my skills that are very industry-specific.” Don’t go really strong with the, soft skills where I tell people, “A soft skill is like, if you told me what it was, I can’t tell you what job you did.” So, like, “I’m a good communicator. I have a strong attention to detail,” okay, but what job are you doing? It’s not to say that soft skills aren’t important, it’s just that the reader is looking for, “Are you checking off the list in terms of industry-relevant skills that I need you to do?”

So just with those two you’re already telling the reader, “Here’s my synopsis of what you’re going to see as you read my experience from the profile. Here are the skills that I can do, which you’re also going to read when you read my experience.” So, when they go to the experience, now you’re just reinforcing what you’ve already told them, and that’s what captivates their interest is the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. the profile is handy in terms of orienting, it’s like, “Okay, how do you see yourself and sort of, generally, how might you fit in here? What are the high points?” I think, for me, when I hear someone say they’re a good communicator, it’s like I guess I’m just a skeptic.

Zeinab Kahera
No, I feel you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just like, “Prove it. Prove it.” It’s like, “I received the highest evaluations out of 20 speakers at this conference.” It’s like, “Okay.” that’s sort of unfudgeable in terms of, “You’ve got to be like a straight up con artist who’s lying to me, or that really happened and you’re good at communication. Well, I have some context. Like, oh, okay, to groups which is very different than one on one, and so maybe we’ve got something else there in terms of your coaching clients have scored X percent, increased, I don’t know, salary, or interview rate, or placement percent,” I don’t know, whatever the most relevant metrics.

Zeinab Kahera
Or hired within 180 days or something like that of working with me.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Zeinab Kahera
Right, exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. And then, cover letters, do they matter?

Zeinab Kahera
I hate them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Zeinab Kahera
I hate cover letters. I do not feel any shame about saying it. And I will say, as someone who follows a lot of people in the career coaching industry, I’m not alone, but I think that the cover letter is important because, so your resume demonstrates your qualifications and your accomplishments. Your cover letter tells the reader why they should hire you.

And I think the thing that people miss out a lot on is you get the opportunity to make a personal connection between you and the company, especially in that first paragraph. People kind of skim through it, “I’m really interested in working in this role. I’m qualified to do this, this, and this,” and they ignore the company. They don’t mention anything that they admire about the company or any research that they’ve done. If you’re interested, it’s okay to tell them, like, “I researched you all, and this is what I found, and I love it, and this is how I feel. Like, I connect with the thing that I love about your company.” And your cover letter really genuinely allows you to do that.

And then when you get into your more industry-specific or your relevant skills, then you can kind of talk more about your accomplishments and so on and so forth but don’t miss out on the opportunity to make that personal connection with you and the company.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then when it comes to interviews, any top do’s and don’ts there?

Zeinab Kahera
My biggest thing is you have leverage in the interview. A lot of times, people think that…I think I said that you’re beckoning call of the interviewer, and obviously you want to make a good impression, but it’s not about being someone that you’re not. It’s being the best expression of your best self. The best expression of yourself.

So, the best way to help you with that is to practice, honestly. You can hire a coach or you can grab a friend, say, “Hey, ask me these questions. I want you to look for this, this, and this. I want you to look for the quality of my answer, the timing of my answer. Do I give a good example? And do I sound confident? Look for those four things.” And then you practice with that person. Or, I did this before multiple times, I recorded myself on my computer, and I went back and listened to my answers, “Okay, I need to trim that down a little bit. Oh, that’s not necessary. I don’t need to mention that as much.”

Also, do your homework. Research the company. Research the people you’re interviewing with. When I would coach my students at my previous job, I can’t tell you the amount of time people would come to the mock interview and not research a company at all, and I’m like, “You are trying to convince these people to hire you, and you don’t even know anything about…like, go to LinkedIn and see if the person that is interviewing has a LinkedIn profile, and look up some things about it, and bring it up in the interview. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re willing to put the effort forward.”

So, to recap, practice, practice, practice, do your research, practice the timing of your answers, the quality. Make sure you have good examples of your work experience. Make sure you research the job description again so that your examples are aligning with what they’re looking for. And, also, research and look up the people who you’re going to be having these conversations with.

Pete Mockaitis
And what do you think about the STAR framework or is there an approach you recommend to interview stories?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes, the STAR method is very, very helpful. The other one that I like is CAR, which is context, action, result. I find that the extra letter can be a little bit…the S and the T can get a little bit intertwined. But, yes, when I was coming up through TARGET, we would use a model of what you did, how you did it, and the impact that it made. Or, who was involved, what you did, and what was the impact that was made.

So, this is something that I love sharing, you have to have a point system. The STAR method is a point system, there’s four points. Situation is point one, task is point two, action is point three, result is point four. Let’s say that you’re asked like an open-ended question that’s not really behavioral in structure or competency-based, how do you answer those, like, “Why do you want to work here?”

So, you can still follow the point system, “I’m going to give three reasons why I want to work here,” or, “I’m going to give two reasons why I want to work here.” Two to three is usually my sweet spot. Why does that help? Because it allows your answer to be more memorable from the interviewer’s perspective. It also keeps you from rambling and it also keeps you from under-answering.

That’s a great technique that I like to recommend to individuals who may be ADHD because they sometimes struggle with the organization of their thoughts or they lose their place. So, I say, “When they ask you a question, obviously, give yourself a few seconds to think about it. It’s okay to think about it. And then while you’re thinking about it, figure out your number, what’s your number going to be? ‘Okay, my number is going to be three and I’m going to give three reasons why I want to work here’ and then you start answering.”

Pete Mockaitis
And talking about ADHD and whether it’s clinically diagnosed or just that we’re all distracted, is the interviewer themselves is also a human being whose attention is subject to wander, and it’s just magical. I’ve noticed this in my keynotes, it’s like when you say, “There are three key things,” it just sort of like the pens click, “Oh, one, two, three,” it’s like they’re just primed. And so, why not galvanize attention that way?

Zeinab Kahera
That’s right. And when you say it through points and then you summarize really quickly, again, it makes it more easier for them to remember because you’ve organized it in a way where they don’t have to go through and search for what you said.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Zeinab Kahera
Very true.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah, I was thinking about what are some things that I have found to be really helpful in a successful job search, and I identified like five things that I wanted to share. The first one was that you have to have a plan that is manageable but flexible. And you can use the SMART goal setup if you want to for your plan but the reason why the plan is important is because it allows you to track and measure your progress. So, that’s number one.

Another one, though, is that, in your measurements of success, there has to be an existence of grace because I find that people are very hard on themselves or they set these expectations that can be somewhat unrealistic. So, is your measurement of success graceful? Then you have to also be willing to be uncomfortable because we live in a time that we get things instantly a lot or we have a perception that we’re getting it instantly because time is still time.

I think that we feel like when we start applying, we should instantly start hearing something, there’s not going to be any waiting time, and that’s just a lie. It’s going to be very uncomfortable and you’re going to sometimes question your decision-making process, but if that’s coming up for you, the discomfort, that’s a normal thing, so embrace it.

I mentioned before about connecting with the best parts of yourself. You have to trust that person. I think sometimes we default to the worst parts of ourselves, and that’s what causes us to question our decisions a lot more. But you did something to get you to where you are right now. You didn’t just show up. So, what were those things that you did? What were those things the best parts of you that helps you to get to where you are right now? And lean into those, channel those.

And the very last one is you got to allow other people to help you. and this really comes up, especially in that networking piece because I think that people feel like, “Well, I don’t have a big network.” If you even just found four names, three names, and you write an email, and you say, “Hey, I’m making a career change, I’m getting into this industry, I’m just looking for some potential opportunities. I’ve attached my resume. I’d love for you to look at it. If you know anyone who may be interested in hiring me, please send them my way.” Done.

And it’s okay. Why? Because if you were challenged with the opportunity to help someone, most likely you’re going to do it. You’re not going to say no. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think what’s fun about that one is because when it comes to helping, that’s one of the easiest things you can do. It’s like, “Oh, I can send an email that might take three minutes. Like, hey, you people know each other now,” and it could very well result in they get a job there, and then both people are grateful. You’ve scored brownie points with both people, the hirer and the hiree. And it took you only a few minutes, and it’s almost like you get a sliver of the credit. So, just in terms of like impact per minute, I think it’s just huge and a fun to help that way.

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah, best investment in time you can put in for yourself. And I mentioned just recently coming out of a job search, and one of the things that I did differently was I was like, “I’m going to use my network this time because in the past I didn’t do that.” That’s how I got a job literally. A friend had a friend that worked at the company that I’m going to, and I set up a coffee chat because I was like, “Okay, well, I want this person to actually know that I’m qualified to do it, and I want to…” so, we did an informational interview, is another way you can call it.

And when I spoke to her, there wasn’t a job available but the conversation that we had was so impactful for her that when a job became available that I applied to, she went from just a reference to an advocate, emailing the hiring manager, having a chat with the recruiter. And so, for me, I was like, “Wow, this is so much rewarding,” and it felt weird asking for help but I’m glad that I did it because my job search went so much more smoother and quicker than I had anticipated.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Zeinab Kahera
Yeah. I’m not a Christian but I love this quote from the Bible, it says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And I love that because it talks about being able to be yourself and evolve through educating and learning and transforming yourself, not necessarily just falling into place and doing what everybody else is doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Zeinab Kahera
The Four Agreements. I love that book. I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Zeinab Kahera
I have two, and these are big because I give them my money two use them. One is Grammarly. I love Grammarly. And then the other one is Calendly. And what took hold of Calendly is just a story behind it because I remember using it before the CEO started really getting a lot of funding, and just to see it evolve. I love Calendly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Did you schedule this meeting with Calendly?

Zeinab Kahera
I surely did.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Zeinab Kahera
Be kind to yourself and show yourself grace. People tell me that when I tell them that it helps them a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Zeinab Kahera
Yes. So, once again, thank you so much for having me here. This is a great conversation. I love talking about this stuff, so much that I turned a career into it, so I appreciate it. My website is ZeinabKahera.com. So, that is Z, E as in elephant, I, N as in Nancy, A as in apple, B as in boy. Kahera, K-A-H-E-R-A.com. Email is zeinab@zeinabkahera.com. And you can hit me up at LinkedIn. LinkedIn is like that is my boo. I love me some LinkedIn. I’m on there all the time, so definitely reach out to me there. Let’s make a connection. If you ever want to practice an informational or an interview or a coffee chat, holler at me. Yeah, that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Zeinab, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in your career adventures.

Zeinab Kahera
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you having me today.

802: How to Level Up Your Career and Find a Job You Love with Brandi Nicole Johnson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Brandi Nicole Johnson shares simple and practical tips for streamlining your job search.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get really clear on what you want  
  2. The best salary database I’ve ever seen
  3. The tiny mistake that can ruin your entire resume

About Brandi

Brandi Nicole Johnson is an award winning international speaker, facilitator and coach. Currently, Brandi remains focused on her passion for developing the world’s next generation of leaders and creating experiences that transform lives. 

Brandi spent most of her career at the Center for Creative Leadership, a globally ranked, internationally known provider of leadership development, research, and executive education. 

Brandi has a Master of Science Degree in Management and Leadership and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Communication Studies. She loves consuming food that is life changing and asking provocative questions that inspire action.  

 

 Resources Mentioned

Brandi Nicole Johnson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Brandi, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Thank you so much, Pete. I’m so excited to be here today. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your pro tips on how one levels up one’s career. But, first, I want to hear a bit about you and the Girl Scouts. You’re a lifetime member, you’ve been awarded the Girl Scout Gold Award. What’s the story here and why do you love them so much?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Ooh, I’ve been a Girl Scout since 1995, so I actually got involved because I was transitioning school systems, and I wanted to stay connected to my previous friend group. And so, a friend, a childhood friend’s mom actually reached out to my mom, and my mom was like, “Well, this is a way for you to stay involved.”

So, I started as a junior, so those were the green uniforms back in the day. I’m not really sure what color they are now. And then stayed in until I graduated from high school. I got my Girl Scout Gold Award at my last year of high school. I created a project that was really focused on helping high school seniors really think through their options, and whether or not college was the right thing for them to pursue. And if so, like how do they pick the right college?

That was something that I really struggled with when I was a senior, so I really wanted to create a playbook that made those things easier. And then since graduating, I have continued to be involved in the movement at all levels of the organization, so global, national, and local. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, is there a particular vibe or ethos that captures you emotionally there?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I would say making the world a better place. So, that’s embedded in the Girl Scout promise and law, and when I think about how I framed my career, when I think about pivotal decisions I’ve made in my life, I always think about what’s going to have the greatest impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, you’re also making an impact in your Level Up Your Career program. Tell us, what’s this program and what’s the big idea here?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I started the Level Up Your Career program because I wanted to scale my impact. So, rather than meeting with coaching clients one on one, Level Up Your Career is a group live training opportunity where you can quickly learn everything that you need to learn in order to be set up for success in your job search.

So, typically, we would take four weeks over the period of a month to walk through my signature career coaching framework. And that’s rooted in, first, creating a strong job search strategy, then crafting resumes and brand that get results, then taking an opportunity to think through, “How do you maximize your interview performance?” And then, finally, getting prepared to actually level up your offer once you get an offer that you’re really excited about.

So, in a couple of weeks, at the end of September, we’re actually going to offer the program again in a Masterclass format. So, over a period of two evenings that start at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we’re going to take an opportunity to walk through that same framework in an accelerated fashion. So, I’m really excited about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, I’ve got to know. Can you share with us some of the juiciest gems in each of these four phases in terms of I see in my mind’s eye that silly ad about one weird trick to eliminate belly fat? Brandi, can you give us at least one weird trick, or it doesn’t have to be that weird, inside each of these that is super handy to leveling them up?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yup, absolutely. So, I’d say in that first phase, especially when you want to really focus on creating a strong job search strategy, I see so many people today on LinkedIn talking about how much time they’re spending on job applications, and I highly recommend not doing that. And I recommend not doing that by getting really clear around what it is that you’re searching for.

So, there are a multitude of resources that we can pursue to help us learn more about what criteria we want to set so that we’re really clear about what it is that we’re looking for in terms of our next professional opportunity, and then letting technology do the work for you.

So, one of the magic things, or one of the wonderful things really about LinkedIn right now is that LinkedIn allows you to set up job search alerts. So, once you’re clear about that criteria, LinkedIn will actually notify you when something that aligns with your criteria becomes available. And so then, you’re streamlining your job search in terms of the amount that time you’re spending actually on applications.

In that second phase where we’re thinking through how to craft resumes and brands that really gets results in a way that really want and keeps recruiters in your inbox, this really comes down to helping other people understand what you can do for them. And the best way that one can illustrate that is by taking an opportunity to quantify every single contribution and accomplishment that you have achieved in your past.

So, if there was an increase, actually talking about the percentage. If there was a revenue goal that you met, actually talking about that dollar amount. If there was a portfolio that you managed, actually talking about the depth of that portfolio and the size. When we get to maximizing your interview performance, and this is where I see a lot of candidates go wrong because the reality is, if you’ve taken the time to apply, you have submitted your application, you’ve then been invited for an interview, interview experiences can make or break your candidacy.

And so, it’s really important to make sure you’re investing the amount of proper time to set yourself up for success. So, that often means that you have to practice beforehand, and that you’re also really clear from your previous conversations with the recruiter, from your research about what that company is looking for, and what problems that role will actually have an opportunity to solve.

And when you get to that final phase, which is my favorite because it’s all about the money, this is when we don’t want to leave any money on the table. And so, in order to be best prepared for any salary negotiation conversation, it’s going to require that you do your research upfront. I don’t recommend going to check out Glassdoor. I actually recommend taking it a step further and going to look at trusted resources of information. So, one of the best ways to do that is through salary databases that are open source.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, Glassdoor, not the trusted source. What are the open source for salary databases that are trusted?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yup. So, if you look at H1B data, for example, that’ll give you a really good pulse as to what the base salary is. Now, the reality is compensation varies based on industry. So, if you’re in tech, you’re likely looking at a compensation package that may also include a bonus or equity of some kind. Another trusted salary resource, I love 81cents. They just got acquired not too long ago, but their mission is still very much the same, and that is they can help you understand your market value and what kinds of compensation expectations you should have going into that job search, and especially as you’re preparing to get an offer. So, that’s another wonderful resource.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, we’ll zoom in a little bit on the first piece with job search strategy. Are there any particular approaches you recommend we go about doing to for our own soul-searching, or identifying, “All right, these are the things that make all the difference when it comes to finding a fit you love versus hate”?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, for sure. One, I think in today’s time, being really honest about the reality of what’s not working for you and your current role, if you are working, or, if you’re not working, what you’re more excited about. I think, over the last two and three years, especially as we journeyed throughout the pandemic and all the other things that have been happening around the world, the reality is work is different. And because work is different, we have an opportunity to really think strategically about what it is that we want so that we’re making sure we’re pursuing opportunities that align with our strengths and with our preferences.

So, the first thing is honor yourself. The second thing that I’d say that’s really important is take some time to do some introspection. So, whether you hire a career coach, whether you talk with a trusted friend, whether you take some time, spend half a day reflecting on questions like, “What kinds of problems do I want to solve?”

For me, when I was in the same situation and job searching, it was when I had taken my first sabbatical. I remember thinking about, “How did I want to spend my energy?” because the reality is that, in today’s time in 2022, most of us are spending most of our awake hours at work, if we’re working. And so, for me, I really wanted to spend my awake hours doing something that gave me great joy, but that also gave me an opportunity to learn and earn.

And so, I returned to coaching, I returned to learning and development. And so, I invite and encourage everyone to think through that same lens of “What are you excited about? What gives you great energy? What kinds of problems do you want to solve?” Take that one step further, and also think through, “What brands do you really admire? Who has a strategy that you’re really excited about helping them build, and helping them execute?” Those are some of the guiding things and principles that I often encourage clients to really think through and to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, I’m also curious, when it comes to this personal brand business, can you speak to that and give us some examples of what does an okay personal brand sound like versus an excellent one?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, I would say we have to remember what age and time we live in, which is that everything is searchable in today’s time. And because it’s searchable, that means we really need to be mindful, especially digitally, of what we’re showing. It doesn’t really matter whether or not your Instagram profile is public or whether or not you have an unlisted video on YouTube. The reality is the power of meme and screenshots is still very real.

And so, the first thing I always recommend when it comes to thinking about your brand is making sure you have done an audit. So, for example, is what I’m posting, is what I’m sharing, is what I’m commenting on something that’s helpful to me getting my next career opportunity or is it not? Does it detract away from the opportunities that I want?

And so, if there are things that detract away from it, I encourage you to delete it and remove it. And then, also, really thinking about how you brand yourself starting with your name. So, I know from a previous private coaching client I had, we did a quick Google search on their name, and we realized that there was someone with the same name that had an open warrant out.

And so, I was like, “You probably want to put your middle initial in your name from now on professionally just to make sure it’s abundantly clear that you are not this person, should a hiring manager ever do a search.”

The other thing I really encourage is to take an opportunity to really invest and creating a really robust LinkedIn profile. So, not only thinking thoughtfully about your picture and using every character of your headline, but making sure you’ve captured your experience in a really meaningful way throughout your profile, and that you have at least 50 connections so that you’re able to still grow and build your network.

I also highly recommend commenting on posts that you find intriguing and engaging with others across the LinkedIn network community. LinkedIn is very powerful in that in today’s time, if there is a new opportunity, especially if it’s a new job opportunity, it goes there first. Hundreds of thousands of roles are posted there week over week, and so it’s a great place not only to build and increase your professional network, but to also find out about new opportunities as they become available.

Pete Mockaitis
And you said something that made my ears perk up, when you said things that you can do that are detracting from your online presence from a career professional perspective. Well, I imagine there are some things that are obvious and maybe juicy and funny, so tell us about those. But what are some things that are maybe more subtle, like, “Oh, it didn’t occur to me that I should perhaps not do that”?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, I would think thoughtfully through that lens because this is going to be very contextual, right? So, through the lens of I always say that if you wouldn’t want to testify about it in a court of law, you probably should not post it. If you wouldn’t want to be called to HR because you posted it, you probably shouldn’t post it.

Pete Mockaitis
Or in an interview, “Brandi, I noticed this on your Instagram.”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, well, you don’t think that’s kind of funny?”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
You’re right.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, no? Uh-oh. Okay.”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah. So, if you don’t want to be asked about it in an interview, which is always fair game if you posted it, again, it’s probably something that you would want to remove in that season. In today’s time, some companies now even have social media policies so they’ve been very specific about what you can and cannot post on social media, or they even have a disclaimer to say, “Hey, my posts are my own.” So, I just always encourage all of my clients to be really mindful of what they’re posting, whether or not they’re job searching or not. Like, your brand always matters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Well, now let’s talk a bit about resumes. Any top do’s or don’ts, mistakes you see all the time in terms of things that people should stop doing or start doing right away?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yes, absolutely. So, I see typos in resumes all the time, and that’s got to stop. So, get somebody else to proofread your resume. A typo, for me, is an automatic no. I’m going to move your resume to the bottom of the pile. I think it’s also really important to acknowledge again that resumes yield a short attention span.

So, the research says that recruiters and hiring managers typically spend about six seconds reviewing your resume before they move on to the next. So, you have a very small finite amount of time to get their attention. So, again, make sure your resume is aligned with not only representing your experience in a quantifiable way, but really painting a picture of what you want them to know about you, and giving them an opportunity to think through what it might be like to have a conversation with you in real time because it’s often the interview that comes next.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’re bringing back fond memories of resume typos back when I was doing hundreds of consulting resumes. There were several people who were looking for a challenging role in a world-class “consulting” firm, and I was like, “Oh, well, I don’t think this is the place that you’re looking for, actually.”

Brandi Nicole Johnson
See what I mean? Use Grammarly, use spell check, get a friend to proofread. Like, it really does make a difference. It really does.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Brandi, this is fun. Tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I would just say, if there’s anything I can do to support any of you, just reach out and let me know. You can always reach me at BrandiNicoleJohnson.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
“Be who you needed when you were younger.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.
Well, now, could you share a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Right now, I’m reading a lot about toxic work cultures, and the impact that they can have not only on our careers and our lives, but also our health. And so, for me, I’ve become ever more vigilant and passionate about making sure everyone that I’m connected to is pursuing opportunities that they’re really excited about and where they know they can truly grow and advance their careers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I’m going to say it’s a tool that makes me better, my prayer journal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great, yeah.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
So, I take an opportunity every morning to write down and capture at least three things I’m grateful for, and then three things that are top of mind for me that I likely am worried or concerned about, and then I let them go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, my next question is a favorite habit, so it sounds like we’ve already heard of one.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
I’m working on a new habit, which is I try to see my trainer every week day. So, not only does it give me an opportunity to invest more in my own wellness, but also in movement. And so, that’s going really well. It’s a habit I’m trying to build.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
“Consider it done.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yup, absolutely. You can go to BrandiNicoleJohson.com.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Yeah, absolutely.
So, if you are finding yourself in a place where you’re overwhelmed by your job search, where you are looking to transition and level up in your career, I invite you to join us for the next Level Up Your Career Masterclass a little bit later on this month. You can find out more at CareerGold.co.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brandi, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun as you level up.

Brandi Nicole Johnson
Thank you. It’s been an honor. Thank you so much, Pete. Take care.

799: The Unspoken Rules of High Performers and High Potentials with Gorick Ng

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Gorick Ng lays out the unspoken rules and expectations of managers that explain why top performers get ahead.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three questions everyone is asking about you 
  2. The A+ way to ask for help
  3. The mentality that keeps professionals from progressing 

About Gorick

Gorick Ng is the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, a book published by Harvard Business Review Press. It is a guide to help professionals, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, take control of their careers, based on 500+ interviews with professionals across geographies, industries, and job types. Gorick is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), investment banking at Credit Suisse, and research with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School. He has been featured in The Today ShowThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalBuzzFeedNew York PostFast Company, and CNBC. He was named by Thinkers50 as one of 30 thinkers to watch in 2022. Gorick, a first-generation college student, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

 Resources Mentioned

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Gorick Ng Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gorick, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Gorick Ng
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. Excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to chat with you and hear some insights from your book The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, but I think we also need to hear a little about your other career as a magician.

Gorick Ng
Well, I have the perfect storm of being awkward, shy, and introverted. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was in elementary and middle school, I picked up magic tricks after seeing David Copperfield levitate on stage on TV.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I watched that too and was sad that I couldn’t fly. My mom had to break the news to me, like, “No, it’s just an illusion. It’s not actually flying.”

Gorick Ng
I had to temper my expectations after realizing that magic tricks start off with playing cards and coins, not necessarily levitating in front of a big audience. So, it took some getting used to but I ended up spending summers upon summers at the local magic shop where I ended up interacting with strangers and often folks who were double my age, triple my age sometimes, and, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me because I got out of my shell.

I forced myself in a way that I actually wanted to force myself, to put myself out there, talk to strangers, and be vulnerable. I was deathly afraid of having folks see behind the tricks and know the secret. So, if you’re talking about putting yourself out there in front of an audience and having the imposter syndrome, I guess magicians face it all the time. I certainly did.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’re quite literally an imposter because you’re not actually doing the things that…

Gorick Ng
Exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
…you’re purporting to do. Well, tell me, was there a particular crowd favorite trick or illusion? I’m thinking of Gob from “Arrested Development” now. Was there a particular crowd-pleasing bit that you did frequently?

Gorick Ng
I would take a dollar bill and turn it into a 10-dollar bill.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Gorick Ng
And it’s actually one that my mom still tells people about when she pulls aside family members. She’ll say, “Well, what about that trick you showed us ten years ago?” and I thought to myself, “Oh, no, mom, let’s talk about this some other time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Are you still able to pull it off?

Gorick Ng
I’m a little rusty, I have to say. It’s been a while since I’ve picked it up but I still actually have a big cabinet full of equipment at home that I just haven’t been able to get myself to sell.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear that. Okay. Well, now let’s talk about increasing the value you can offer an employer or a business or nonprofit, etc. You have written a book, The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right and so I’m excited to get into some of those rules which I imagine will not be applicable only to people fresh in their careers but these rules probably apply, is it fair to say, to most professionals?

Gorick Ng
Definitely. Actually, it was a big, not debate, not argument, more of just a longstanding discussion between me and my publisher Harvard Business Review around what the subtitle of the book should even be. We had a Google Doc going, containing 20, 30, maybe 40, 50 different potential subtitles, one of which is “How to be a High Performer and High Potential at Work.” It’s a bit of a mouthful but we decided to hone in on the early-career audience.

But what I’ve realized since engaging with companies large and small, and becoming a consultant speaker at companies like GE, IBM, etc. is that what is a must for some is good for all. So, my audience now, yes, it consists of early-career professionals, but those who find my message to resonate most are actually in their mid-careers and above.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, lay it on us, to start, is there a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you made while doing all these interviews to put together this book?

Gorick Ng
The biggest takeaway for me is actually a framework that I call the 3Cs, which stand for competence, commitment, and compatibility. And the idea is the minute you show up, whether it’s at a coffee chat, a client meeting, a one-on-one with your manager, etc., the people around you are sizing you up, and they’re asking themselves three questions.

Question one is, “Can you do this job well?” which is the question of, “Are you competent?” Question two is, “Are you excited to be here and to grow with us?” and that’s the question of “Are you committed?” And the third question, the final one, is, “Do we get along?” which is the question of “Are we compatible?” So, “Are you competent?” “Are you committed?” and “Are we compatible?” the 3Cs.

Your job, and frankly all of our jobs, and this includes the CEO, is to convince the people around us to answer yes to all three questions all the time. Demonstrate these 3Cs and you’ll build trust, you’ll unlock opportunity, and you’ll get closer to reaching your career goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that makes sense in terms of segmenting that into three handy categories. So, how do we go about demonstrating these things?

Gorick Ng
Well, the first thing is to look left, look right, and to understand the unspoken expectations around how people demonstrate these 3Cs, and it depends on the workplace. So, I’ll give you a few examples here. When it comes to demonstrating competence, for example, what I realized is there’s actually a certain song and dance that you’re expected to do in many workplaces when you have a question.

So, the C+ plus way of approaching an ambiguous situation is to, well, do what I did, which is to put my head down, put some extra effort into it, and just hope it’ll work itself out and not ask questions because I’m worried about coming across as incompetent or lazy. The B+ approach is to go to your manager or a coworker and to say, “I’m stuck. What do I do next?” which is an open-ended question.

An A+ approach is to say, “Pete, I’m struggling with this. I tried looking here and here. I couldn’t quite find the answer, so I approached my colleague Sally, and we couldn’t quite sort it out either. Shall I be taking approach A, approach B, or approach C? I’m leaning towards approach B but let me know if I’m not thinking about this the right way.”

So, what are you doing? You’re actually demonstrating a few unspoken rules, one of which is to bundle and escalate, so to do your own homework before approaching others. The next is to give others something to react to. So, instead of opening the conversation with a big broad question, you’re giving people options.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And I remember, geez, I might’ve been in like fifth grade when I was a really judgmental fifth-grader. You’re bringing me back to my youth, Gorick, this conversation. And I remember, sometimes when they would ask the teacher for help, they just say, “I don’t get it,” and I can tell the teachers were frustrated by that too, even though teachers are often paragons of patience and they’re accustomed to having to go through something multiple times.

And I remember thinking, “You know, it just doesn’t seem like the best way to ask for help.” It feels a little bit like, I don’t know if I would use these words at the time, but almost like an abdication of responsibility. Like, “You, you fix this because it’s not working for me,” as opposed to getting a little bit more specific. It’s like, “I understand that…” I don’t even know what we’re learning in fifth grade. Igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks maybe, that’s what comes to mind.

“But what really is the difference between sedimentary and igneous?” the geologists are appalled right now, and I’m saying, “Because it would seem that they’re almost the same in that A, B, and C,” and say, ahh, that gives you a whole lot more direction, like, “Oh, yes, I can see where you’re coming from there, and I’m better able to help you given that context. And here’s the precise prescription for what your knowledge needs to be augmented with,” as opposed to, “Well, I guess I’ll just maybe say everything I said before again.”

Gorick Ng
Hundred percent. And it brings me back to a conversation that my manager had with me early on in my career. This was after I did exactly the C+ approach, which was put my head down and hide away for weeks and not show my face at all, only to come back and do the wrong work. My manager said, and I mean for those listening who…well, everyone has had that experience of going from school to work, and realizing that what we learned in school doesn’t exactly align with what we’re expected to know in the workplace.

And so, it’s part of this right of passage, my manager pulled me aside, actually slammed the conference room door behind him…

Pete Mockaitis
Dramatic.

Gorick Ng
…and said, “Look, we hired you to think. If we just hired you to blindly follow a set of instructions, your job could’ve been automated by now. There’s a reason why we hired a human being, a living breathing human being with a brain. It’s because you can solve problems. It’s because you can think critically, so think.”

It was a scary conversation. I’m chuckling at that in retrospect but it really did make a lot of sense, and it reminded me of this side of our brain that just gets turned off by school because, in school, we just have been conditioned to think that textbook has all the answers, there’s a right or wrong to everything, that professor knows best, and that just isn’t the case in the workplace where there’s very rarely a right or wrong answer. More often, there’s just a difference in values and perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Cool. All right. Well, that’s a great approach right there from the get-go in terms of the A+ way of asking for help, bundle and escalate, make it clear. You tried some things, you have some options in mind, as opposed to, “I don’t get it. Fix this,” or toil away and hope that it hits the right thing. That’s high risk because it may very well not be the right thing. So, lay it on us some more unspoken rules and best practices for following them well.

Gorick Ng
A big one is to understand what matters to those who matter. So, put yourself in the shoes of the higher-ups in your team, in your department, in your organization, and ask yourself, “What goals are they trying to reach? And what pains are they trying to alleviate? What’s causing them stress? What’s wasting them time?” And look left, look right, find a swim lane. So, find something that hasn’t been done before, and occupy that swim lane because the more you understand what matters to those who matter, the more you’ll do work that matters. And the more that you do work that matters, the more you will matter.

And I have a story here, if I may, of someone who unexpectedly did this. And this is actually an individual who’s hired into a staffing company as an administrative assistant. So, the staffing company has a business model where they would place nurses into hospital jobs, and this individual was hired on a six-month contract, and her job was to simply process paperwork. And just like the dozens of people who had come before her, she would work for six months and she’d be off to something else.

She took a very different approach, and just approached her job with a different mindset, which was, “Wait a second. I didn’t just get hired to process paperwork. I got hired to help this company achieve its goals.” So, one day, after doing her work fully, accurately, and promptly, which is really the basis of competence and to show that you’re reliable, she found herself overhearing a conversation between some higher-ups, and they were complaining about how they couldn’t find enough nurses to place into these hospital jobs, at which point she thought, “Well, duh.”

This is a story from the Philippines, by the way, “The company I’m working at is relying on the telephone, on antiquated websites to hire people, when all of my friends are relying on social media to find their next jobs.” And so, she opened up her smartphone, went on to a few of these Facebook pages, and she discovered that actually many of her company’s competitors were quietly lurking in these groups, posting job opportunities, getting the word out.

And she then approached her managers and said, “Hey, maybe this is something you’ve already thought about, but I couldn’t help but notice that, actually, a lot of my friends who were coming out of nursing school are actually finding about job opportunities on social media, something that it doesn’t seem like we’re trying right now. Is this something we’ve considered?”

At which point, her manager thought, “No, this didn’t even occur to us at all. Well, why don’t you go ahead and lurk a little bit.” Fast-forward several months, and she ended up creating a social media presence for her company, ended up providing market intelligence to senior leaders, multiple layers up in the organization.

And so, one day, her manager’s manager came up to her, and said, “I know your contract is due to end. I hope you’re not going anywhere because we want you to lead marketing for our company.” And, just like that, she ended up becoming the youngest manager in her company, leading a division that hadn’t even existed before. And that was all from just seeing her job as more than just a set of tasks but rather as a set of goals to be achieved for the broader team.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And it’s so easy to let those opportunities just float away. Like, you overhear a conversation, and you’re like, “Not my problem.” You just move along, or you just say, “Duh,” and you don’t say anything, or you feel kind of nervous, it’s like, “You know, I got an idea here but I don’t know if it’s my place to say. I’m just an administrative assistant. This is a temporary contract. I’m sure they probably thought of it before.” And you can just talk yourself out of it in seconds instead of pursuing an opportunity which can be game-changing.

Gorick Ng
Oh, yeah. It’s like we’re all walking down an art gallery on a daily basis in our lives, and we’re looking at the same painting but coming to different conclusions around what this painting depicts. So, someone else in this very same situation might look at the scenario that this individual was in, and think, “Yeah, this is someone else’s problem. I’m just an administrative assistant,” to your point. But even the slightest tweak in how we see ourselves and how we fit into the big picture can make a big difference.

So, one of the things that I observe a lot, and I’m guilty of this, is I still have to remind myself to not use the word just, “So, I’m just a planning analyst” which is one way of looking at your job. But another way is to think, “Yeah, sure, I’m a planning analyst but my job is really to get stuff to the right place at the right time. And as a result of my broader mandate, I understand market demand at my company better than anybody.”

Or, if you’re working in manufacturing, for example, “I’m just a machine operator,” versus, “I create the product that makes my company’s products the best. And as a result of having this broader mandate, I know what it takes to be more lean, to be less wasteful, and to be more efficient better than anybody, including the CEO because I’m operating this machine on a daily basis.”

Or, finally, “I’m just a quality manager,” versus, “I ensure that our company’s world-class standards are upheld. And as a result of this broader mandate, I know how to identify when something is wrong and how to fix these problems better than anybody, and this, again, includes the CEO because they’re not looking at these problems on a day-to-day basis. They’re not in these spreadsheets day in, day out. I know more about this topic than anybody, and there is something that is trapped inside of my head that deserves the light of day. I’m just not giving myself credit for what I know and what could be useful.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really powerful, that notion of “I know this better than anybody” is true of perhaps the majority of workers. Like, there is a domain of knowledge that, because you’ve spent more time on it than anybody else, you’re closer to it, day after day, have thought about it than anybody else. And that creates power and opportunity which is really cool.

Gorick Ng
And it creates something that leaders want, which is an ownership mindset. I’ve spoken to over 500 professionals across geographies, industries, and job types to write this book, and the one word that I hear time and time again from leaders is, “I wish that my employees could be owners, could think like an owner, to have this ownership mindset.”

And everyone is capable of doing this. Of course, it’s a matter of self-help so it’s a matter of reframing the way that we exist in the world, but it’s also about all of us needing to help. So, we need leaders and managers to create spaces where people are rewarded for going above and beyond but it can be super simple.

So, one example that I had heard about but that, unfortunately, didn’t make it into the book because I was 40,000 words over the word limit, is of a customer service representative who worked at a quick service restaurant. So, this person was equivalent to the person who scoops up the guacamole in that assembly line.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, tasty.

Gorick Ng
Indeed. And this individual looked around the store and noticed that it was total mayhem outside because customers didn’t know where to line up. And so, he approached his manager and said, “Hey, maybe you’ve already thought about this but I couldn’t just help but notice that when people walk into the store, they don’t know if they’re supposed to be lining up on the left-hand side or the right-hand side, and so people are bumping into each other and getting confused and frustrated that they can’t seem to find the beginning of the line.”

“Have we thought about maybe hanging up a sign that says, ‘Start here. Pay here,’ and maybe just drawing some lines on the floor so that people know where to go?” And, just like that, the entire operations of this store ended up being improved, and, of course, this person ended up being rewarded as a result as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And you’ve used this phrase a couple times, and it’s really growing on me “Maybe you’ve already thought about this,” which says…it gives you sort of blanket absolution for any potential perception of presumption. That’s a lot of words. But you cover yourself. It’s not like, “I’m not saying you’re an idiot. I noticed this and you may have thought about it, too, and I’m just kind of curious what your thoughts here.” So, I like that.

Gorick Ng
I appreciate you picking that up because it comes back to the 3Cs framework, where it’s not a binary. It’s not a matter of “Are you competent?” versus “Are you not?” It’s actually a spectrum where it’s possible to overshoot and it’s possible to undershoot. So, overshoot this zone of competence and you come across, potentially, as a know-it-all.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I’ve taken the liberty of getting an architectural blueprint set right up for precisely the most optimized flow.” Yeah, you’re right. In a way, it’s like, “Okay, that’s super proactive and ambitious but I’m a little weirded out and think you probably should’ve consulted me before, I don’t know, spending company money on an architect,” for example.

Gorick Ng
That’s exactly right. And one of the phrases I use a lot in my sessions is the importance of stepping up without overstepping. And that really speaks to just how delicate this balance is between showing just the right dose of competence, commitment, and compatibility without overshooting the mark and coming across as threatening or wanting to make others look bad.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, while we’re talking about specific words, and phrases, and verbiage, any other gems you’d like to share?

Gorick Ng
Well, this one will be likely familiar to those especially in the management position or in an HR function, which is the nine-box matrix. And it’s nine boxes, along the bottom are the labels low performance, medium performance, high performance. And along the edge is low potential, medium potential, high potential.

Now, folks are thinking, “Well, that’s not an unspoken rule. That’s a performance-management framework.” What I didn’t appreciate until I started doing these interviews is that it’s actually not common sense that doing your job is only part of your job. The rest is about showing that you can be trusted with more important responsibilities.

So, what does it mean to show high performance? Well, you’re reliable, you’re doing what you say you will do, you are being responsive, you are showing detail orientation, all of these basics. But what people don’t appreciate is that it’s not enough to simply put your head down, do the hard work, and hope that someone will give you credit for your hard work. You also need to show that you have potential.

So, you need to show that you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you have to have an answer and a point of view, you have to address issues ideally before they come up, you have to offer ways to make things better, and you have to be seen and heard by leadership. And so, these are the unspoken rules of getting promoted. It’s just that how we’re evaluating employees and how employees think they’re being evaluated are often night and day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, let’s dig into committed, how you show it. And, first, I just want to…we’re talking about commitment, and I’ve just recently been reading a number of articles about quiet quitting, as it’s called, and I guess there’s multiple interpretations or definitions of this. It’s sort of like you haven’t quit but you’re sort of coasting and you’re going to do the bare minimum, and you’ve sort of quit in your heart, if you will.

And so, that’s creating a buzz in some conversations. But I’d love it if we could address the mindset or the attitude in terms of, “Well, okay, yeah, an ownership mindset would be great but I’m not an owner. I don’t have equity or stock options or performance compensation of any kind. So, yeah, I bet you’d like it if I had an ownership mindset but I don’t because I’m, in fact, not an owner, and that even seems potentially unfair for me to go above and beyond when the rewards are not in play.” I just want to let you respond to that kind of attitude or mindset.

Gorick Ng
Well, this is a good example of where leaders and employees are really talking past each other. And, actually, if I may return to the 3Cs framework because the way that we often, at least when I approach the workplace, I thought that it was all about just doing my job. And, actually, I have a quote from someone, an accountant who was new to corporate America and who thought that, “Well, is it my job just a simple matter of showing up, doing my work, and then going home? That’s what a job is, right?”

And I thought to myself, “Well, yeah.” If I think about my single mother who worked in a sewing machine factory, that was her job. You show up, you do your work, you put your head down, and you leave.” But in this increasingly knowledge-based economy in which we live, it’s hard to evaluate your outputs on a daily basis. So, you can’t just walk up to someone and see how many garments they sewed and the quality of the zipper they sewed onto that garment.

So, in the absence of, clearly, discernible outputs, we start relying on inputs. We rely on, “Well, how responsive are you in emails? How confident are you coming across in conversations? How much are you coming to the table with solutions rather than just problems? How much are you showing excitement?” I have a story of someone who worked in a cinema who thought that his job was simply to, well, collect change and give tickets to people. But he was labeled as “not a team player” because, during his breaks, he wasn’t socializing with his colleagues, and that was, in retrospect, dinging this individual’s commitment and compatibility.

And so, while he wanted to make it to be a general manager, folks didn’t see his leadership material. So, I want to come back to this idea of competence and commitment because when I speak to leaders, they care about competence and commitment. Whereas, when I speak to employees, the misnomer is that, “Well, it’s all just about competence. If I’m just doing my work, why am I not getting rewarded?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s a mismatch, folks talking past each other. Understood. So, in a way, there’s simply a misunderstanding on the part of the employee, that commitment is necessary. Whereas, leadership says, “Well, of course, that’s a given to us. We recognize it.” I’m thinking about more about the employees’ attitude or perspective or mindset that, “That’s just not fair or just or right or appropriate.”

Gorick Ng
Yeah, that’s a big one, and this is where we move from self-help to all of us needing to help. So, it’s one thing to lay bare these unspoken rules. It’s another to make sure that you have the structures and incentives in place to make sure that people are actually motivated to perform at this higher level. And so, when it comes to compensation, yeah, it’s hard to ask your employees to go above and beyond if you’re paying below market rates.

It’s hard to ask your sales and marketing team to make more money if all that money is going to the folks high up and they don’t see a penny of it. So, the fairness thing, I think we need to be talking more about because it’s one thing, it’s necessary but not sufficient to have expectations. You also need to make sure that folks feel excited, folks feel supported, and folks feel valued. Those are really the three essential ingredients to motivating your team versus just having a conversation with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, attitude point addressed. Now, share with us, how do we demonstrate that we’re committed?

Gorick Ng
Well, I spoke to the importance, for example, of being responsive. And, here, we rub up against also an area where folks may talk past each other, which is some organizations have this always-on culture, or this hidden expectation that if someone higher-up emails you, no matter what time of day it is, that you’d be jumping at that email and responding right away.

And if you speak to leaders, they’ll say, “Well, yeah, of course. If I asked for something, I expect you to be there.” And then if you talked to employees, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not getting paid at this hour. And just because you want to empty your inbox at 11:00 p.m. doesn’t mean that I want to be up at 11:00 p.m. answering your emails.”

So, here, there is the self-help piece and there’s also the all-of-us-need-to-help piece. So, I interviewed, for example, a superintendent at a school district who had this habit of emptying her inbox on Saturday evenings. And from her perspective, it was, “Well, I’m just trying to empty my inbox, trying to get ahead of the following week,” but in doing so, she had established the unspoken rule in her team that everyone needs to be up at that hour.

So, my message to leaders is to be mindful of your intent which I assume is positive, but, moreover, to be mindful of your impact because you know that your intent is positive but how your actions may be perceived on the other side may not be so positive, in the case of the superintendent.

When it comes to employees, it’s important, and here we come back to this idea of quiet quitting, for example, which is drawing boundaries, to use a synonym here. Often, when I speak to leaders, and why they have these requests and why they tend to micromanage, it’s not because anyone wakes up in the morning, thinking, “How can I be the worst micromanager that has walked the face of the earth?” It’s that they’re nervous. It’s that they’re anxious.

And so, as an employee, you can get ahead of this commitment C if you apply the unspoken rule of why, what, how, by when; where, whenever you’re delegated a task, it’s important to be in alignment with your manager about, “Why is this being asked of me? What’s the broader purpose behind this work? What do I need to do? What’s the deliverable exactly? Is this an email? Is this a presentation? Is this a phone call? How am I supposed to do this? So, am I supposed to find it with my friends? Am I supposed to go on Google? Am I supposed to look at our internal knowledge management system?’

And, moreover, and this is the real one, is by when. So, if my manager asks me to do something by, let’s say…well, actually, let me be clear. Most managers will just say, “Can you please look into this?” So, they won’t even give you a deadline, even though in the back of their heads, they have a deadline of, “Well, I want you to get this done by Friday.”

So, if you don’t ask and your manager doesn’t tell you, you’re going to be on completely different pages about this deadline. So, the first step is to ask, “Hey, when do you need this?” But there’s also a further unspoken rule here, which is that whenever there’s a deadline in the workplace, there’s also an unspoken earlier deadline.

So, even though this is due on Friday, maybe before I hand this deliverable to you, Pete, I need to talk to Jenny, and maybe Jenny is out on Thursday, so I actually have to talk to her on Wednesday. And before I can speak to her, I need to speak to three other people who I can only talk to on Monday. So, the deadline isn’t actually next Friday, it’s this afternoon.

And so, aligning on this ahead of time when you’re delegated an assignment can go a long way in demonstrating that you’re committed and, at the same time, draw those boundaries because you’ve already had this conversation with your manager about, “Hey, I promised to get back to you by this time. It’s not yet that time,” of course you’re not saying this but you’ve gone on to the same page that, “Hey, I will get back to you, so don’t be so nervous, don’t be so anxious about what’s really going on right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think those conversations are so necessary. When you mentioned unspoken rule or expectation of the superintendent doing the Saturday night email, I think that’s one of the most powerful conversations that managers and teams can have, is, “What are our expectations associated with email or Slack messaging, etc.?” because I’ve facilitated workshops where there are just incredible lightbulbs going off, like, “Oh, my gosh, so you don’t need this right away? Like, generally, I can reply within 24 hours, and that’s fine? Wow!”

And then there’s another ball of wax associated with multitasking, switch-tasking, and the horrors it does to our attention and deep work and focus zone, flow stuff. So, that’s a whole another ball of wax. But it can be so transformational when you clear those up, and say, “Oh,” or made you learn, “Actually, yes, I do expect that,” like, “Oh, glad that I know that. I can tell you what I can and cannot do with regard to that.” When you said boundaries, how do you recommend you have those conversations?

Gorick Ng
Well, it’s to approach this as, “How can we best work together?” versus “These are all the things that I demand from you.” And this is a two-way street, this is a conversation that managers can have with their teams, and that team members can have with their managers. So, when you’re meeting your manager for the first time, my advice is to ask, “Hey, what are your biggest goals and priorities over the next week, month, quarter, year? What are the things that you’d like me to be focusing on? What are the top priorities, the have-to-dos versus the nice-to-dos?”

“And how would you like to communicate, day to day, week to week? Would you like me to send you a summary email at the end of every week? Or, would you like me to try and tack on maybe a two-minute conversation after our weekly standups?” To your point, so much of this is about making the unspoken spoken. It’s about reminding ourselves that we can’t read the other person’s mind, and so just because we don’t talk about expectations, doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations.

And we have a choice of either guessing and probably guessing incorrectly, and having that conversation upfront. The style by which you ask is really important. It’s a matter of, “Hey, how can we best work together? How can I save you time and stress?” versus “These are all the things that I expect of you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, or that I don’t do.

Gorick Ng
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t do dishes. I don’t do toilet.” Okay. And so, how about compatibility. How do we demonstrate that?

Gorick Ng
This is the toughest one because bias and discrimination are real. And so, whether we’re talking about age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, vocal pitch, introversion, extroversion, access to transportation if we’re going to a social event after work, internet connectivity, accent.

So, it’s not a level playing field when it comes to the sea of compatibility where some of us, just by who we are and the backgrounds we come from, might show up in an organization and be able to speak like and have the same conversations as those of our coworkers. Versus, someone else who might feel like an outsider and who has to work a lot harder to demonstrate that compatibility.

Let me give you an example of just how tricky and sometimes uncomfortable this sea of compatibility can be with a story that I included in the book of this individual who joined a team that had this ritual of going on pedal bar outings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gorick Ng
Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with pedal bars.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I live near Nashville now. There’s always the Bachelorettes on the strip. They’re going to the bars and they’re pedal…how do I say the word again? Pedal?

Gorick Ng
I think it’s a pedal bar. I have never done it myself.

Pete Mockaitis
P-E-D-A-L. Pedal bar, yes. So, they’re all pedaling on this thing. It’s just like “That cannot be safe.” That’s what I think whenever I see them, it’s like, “You all must have great insurance because I don’t know about this.”

Gorick Ng
Right. Yes. So, this individual found himself in a team where everyone liked going on pedal bar outings while wearing tie dye, actually. So, it’s a tie dye T-shirt pedal bar outing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gorick Ng
And this individual thought, “I don’t like drinking. This whole pedal bar tie dye business, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” And so, he didn’t end up showing up at these outings. So, he politely declined every occasion, and then got to a point where he stopped getting invited altogether because his coworkers thought, “Ah, maybe you’re just not interested in hanging out with us.”

Fast-forward to the performance evaluation process, and he, like the individual I interviewed who was seen as not a team player at the cinema, well, this person also got the same feedback, which is that “You’re doing great in your job but you’re just not a team player.” At which point, he thought, “Okay, what you’re really asking me to do is to join you on these outings,” and that’s what he ended up doing.

I’m not saying conform, and we’ll come back to this, but he ended up going on these outings. And, fast-forward to the next review cycle, and his review shot up, and he ended up continuing to put himself out there, get to know his team members, and he ended up getting promoted actually in record time, multiple times, actually, in this company.

Now, we can hear this story and come to multiple conclusions. The first conclusion is, well, conform if you want to “fit in” which is one interpretation. The other interpretation is to do some self-reflection around what you hold sacred, what you’re willing to negotiate, and what you’re indifferent about. And this is a big thing that I uncovered in my research, which is different people are going to have different zones of tolerance when it comes to what they’re willing to give up for their jobs and, specifically, for the purposes of demonstrating compatibility.

So, some people will have, for example, a nontraditional name, at least within a particular context. And some people in that situation will say, “Yeah, give me a nickname. Go ahead.” Others will say, “No, I prefer that you call me by my real name, and I would prefer that you learn how to pronounce it as well.” Others will say, “You know, I’m willing to let go of my entire wardrobe and wear the slacks that you all wear and the blue and white dress shorts from a certain brand that you all wear and the loafers that you all wear.”

Others will say, “You know, I’m willing to conform to a certain degree, so to mesh with maybe your level of business casual but I’m going to show my own flare. I might show off my usual hair or I might show off jewelry that I would like to.” And no one can tell you what is the right answer. It’s really about who you are and what you value, and whether this is even an organization that you want to bend to.

And this also speaks to something else about these so-called unspoken rules, which is when you’re faced with an unspoken rule, you have three options as well. You can either follow the rules, you can either reject the rules, or you can bend the rules. So, in this case, in this particular individual’s situation, he ended up conforming to start getting promoted to management but, in the end, ended up using his managerial and leadership platform to make sure that folks coming into the organization after him didn’t have to conform in the way that he did.

So, he ended up leading diversity and inclusion initiatives, he ended up creating managerial training programs that would instill a different style of leadership in the organization, and that’s what this individual did. Not to say that we should all do it in this way, but this is one example of many of just how tricky this compatibility topic can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that notion of the three choices, and I actually got this question just yesterday. I was speaking at the IMF, and someone said, “What do you do if you feel like you can’t bring your full self to work because there’s a homogenous culture?” I don’t know if this person was referring to the International Monetary Fund workplace in particular or asking for a friend or whatever. So, not to put that on anyone.

And I thought that that’s a fine question, and it really made me think about, “Well, how are you defining what constitutes bringing your full self to work?” And I think you laid that up nicely in terms of, “Do you care about the loafers or the blue and white dress shirts or the pedal bar, or do you not?” And so, you might have a strong view, you might not, and you got your three options associated with reject the rules, conform to the rules, bend the rules.

And I think maybe a pre-step, if you will, the prequel to that three-part choice, is just confirming that’s really a rule because I think, for example, if it’s like we all happen to wear…I’m wearing jeans and a polo right now as we’re chatting. And so, if I was in a workplace where there are four other people wearing jeans and polos, and then a new person shows up, they might get the memo, “Oh, I’m supposed to wear jeans and polo. Like, that’s what we do here.”

And, yet, if you are engaging in those conversations openly, honestly, directly, proactively, you can mention, “Hey, you’re actually totally free to wear whatever you want. If you want to wear a death metal band T-shirt, that is completely fine here. We just all happen to coincidentally like jeans and polos, yeah.”

Gorick Ng
This is so important a conversation to have, and it has to start from the managerial leadership side. Because if we put ourselves in the shoes of, for example, the individual I interviewed, this is the typical experience of a new hire, which is you get hired, you get radio silence, you have no idea what’s expected of you on your first day, sometimes you don’t even know who your manager is, let alone where you’re supposed to show up and what you’re supposed to know.

You show up, you don’t know a soul. You go to a meeting, everyone’s talking over you or not even acknowledging that you’re the newcomer. You have questions but no one is there to help you out. You try to speak up but you have that imposter syndrome. You try again and folks don’t even acknowledge that you exist. You receive an assignment but you don’t know what to do. You have questions and don’t have anyone to go to. And then, all of a sudden, fast-forward to your performance evaluation, and you’re called an underperformer, not a team player, apathetic, not leadership material.

Now, if we just put ourselves in the shoes of the typical experience of an employee, there are just a lot of really basic things that leaders and managers can do to create a more welcoming environment. And it begins with what you just said, which is “What are the things that really matter in this job? And what are the things that we actually don’t really care about?”

But someone from the outside, if an alien from outer space were to swoop into our organization, this alien might interpret our organization as one where everyone has to be up at all hours, everyone has to wear jeans and polos, everyone has to talk a certain way, everyone has to talk about a certain set of sports and a certain set of teams in that sport, and that may not necessarily be the case.

So, being proactive about this conversation is important because that new hire, who is already feeling uncomfortable, is probably not in a position to spark this conversation themselves. You have to be the one to bring it up.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s great stuff, Gorick. Thank you. Any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Gorick Ng
As I take a step back from my research, my biggest aha moment is twofold. One, it’s that high performers and high potentials are developed, not born. And the second is that, when it comes to onboarding your employees, developing your employees, engaging your employees, and promoting your employees, all of that begins with speaking the unspoken rules.

These unspoken ways that we do things in this organization, that we might assume to be common sense but that’s often not common sense. And this is often a function of privilege, of where we grew up, of our work experience, of the communities in which we live. And deconstructing what those unspoken rules are for all can level the playing field for all of your employees.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gorick Ng
I wish this were my quote. It’s, unfortunately, not mine but it’s still my favorite, and it’s, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Gorick Ng
I’m a big fan of Erin Meyer’s work on The Culture Map. So, she maps out different working cultures across countries around the world, and then maps them out across eight scales. It helped me gain a better appreciation for this notion of cultural differences and how what may be common sense in one culture, may actually be at odds with how another culture does its work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Gorick Ng
My favorite book is Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. It’s actually a picture book on a caterpillar who discovers his true purpose in life. And it turns out that it’s not what everyone else is pursuing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Gorick Ng
I love Instapaper. It’s a tool that allows me to save articles for offline reading, and I actually have Siri read those articles to me when I’m on runs.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Gorick Ng
I can’t say this is a habit yet but I’m definitely trying harder to block off time for the important work so that the mindset of just one more email doesn’t turn into an entire day of emails.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Gorick Ng
The takeaway that folks repeat back to me most often is the idea that it’s not enough to simply put your head down, do the hard work, and let your hard work speak for itself. You need to be seen, you need to be heard in order to be remembered. And you need to be remembered in order for you to be promoted.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Gorick Ng
Best place to contact me is at my website, which is Gorick.com, that’s G-O-R-I-C-K.com. I’m also on the various social media networks, so feel free to connect with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Gorick Ng
My call to action is to leaders, and it’s to identify one person on your team who may come across as a low-performer, someone who may appear to be apathetic or just not get it, and ask yourself, “What might they not get that I consider to be common sense?” and then reach out to them, and ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” and listen. You might be surprised by what they tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gorick, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in sharing and following well the unspoken rules. Keep on rocking.

Gorick Ng
Thanks so much, Pete. Appreciate your time.

796: How to Make Progress on Your Most Audacious Goals, Every Day with Grace Lordan

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Grace Lordan offers actionable solutions and tips to help bring you closer to your goals, one step at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to free yourself from the fear of making mistakes 
  2. How to break free from impostor syndrome
  3. How to stop stress from hijacking your day 

About Grace

Dr Grace Lordan is the Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative and an Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.   

Grace is an economist and her research is focused on quantifying the benefits of inclusion within and across firms, as well as designing interventions that level the playing field for under-represented talent within firms.  Grace served as an expert advisor to the UK government sitting on their skills and productivity board, is currently a member of the UK government’s BEIS social mobility taskforce and is currently on the Women in Finance Charter’s advisory board. 

Her academic writings have been published in top international journals and she has written for the Financial Times and Harvard Business Review. Grace is a regular speaker and advisor to blue chip finance and technology firms. Think Big, Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

Grace Lordan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Grace, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Grace Lordan
Hi, Pete. I’m delighted to be here, and I hope that I am awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, we’ll see.

Grace Lordan
We’ll find out.

Pete Mockaitis
Just kidding. Just kidding. No pressure. I’m excited to hear about your book Think Big: Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want. But, first, I want to hear about your dog-kissing practices.

Grace Lordan
My dog-kissing practices, yes, I mean, that continues. And for my partner, it’s the most embarrassing thing, I think, ever because it’s not even just in private. It’s also in public. She will give me now kisses when she wants a treat. She gives me a kiss before she goes to bed at night. And, actually, when I want to laugh, I do say to her, “Casey, can I have a kiss?” and she does give me a kiss. So, for people who don’t like dog-kissing, it’s probably a really bad start to this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I think that’s adorable. My kids, lately, have been asking it at bedtime, “I want 10 kisses,” and I just love it, so. So, dog kisses, yeah, I’ll take those, too, if we had a dog. As long as the dog, I think if it’s a dog you know, that’s cool. I might be a little uncomfortable if it’s like a total stranger dog that looks kind of, you know, ill. I don’t know if I want him kissing me. But if it’s your dog, it’s all good.

Grace Lordan
I think cuteness is a factor as well. You’ve chosen your dog, so you obviously think it’s really cute, but I think some dogs do look quite intimidating. So, yeah, I think stick to kissing your own dog, for anybody listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re already getting actionable wisdom. Thank you, Grace. Well, let’s hear a little bit about inside your book. Were there any particularly surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made while you’re putting together Think Big?

Grace Lordan
There were lots simply because, when I was writing it, I treated myself as an experiment. So, if you read the book, there’s lots of tips that come from scientific research, and I actually tried them out. Some worked for me, and some didn’t work for me, which I think really kind of shows that you should, when you take advice, really figure out if it’s actually working for you.

I think some of the more interesting ones were thinking, for example, about the spotlight effect, how, for me, I have a tendency towards perfectionism, which it sounds wonderful, but actually it isn’t. It’s quite crippling. And learning about the spotlight effect, that people who are paying attention to you in the moment probably aren’t paying attention to you to the degree that you actually think has been quite freeing for me, and I’ve managed to verify that as true.

So, you can take that as depressing or not, Pete, but most of the things that I do, whether I do them well or do them badly, it feels like nobody’s watching, which is very freeing for me, but it could be quite depressing if you thought about it in another way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m intrigued. How did you confirm? Did you say, “Hey, you, were you watching me earlier when I was doing this?” Or, how did you put that to the test that you were not really being spotlighted?

Grace Lordan
I think you wait for the legacy. So, if you do things like public speaking, or if you are the person who convenes round tables, sometimes you will have blunders and you won’t say things exactly the way that you wanted to say them. For example, you might not be as clear as you would want. And I used to ruminate on that, and I would ask you, if you were my colleague, who is in the round table, and procrastinate over, “What did you think?” because I’m drawing your attention, so you would probably have a few comments.

But I found out that, actually, not necessarily drawing people’s attention to it, verified for me the people weren’t paying attention to it to begin with. Then, actually, even just leaving a lag to get feedback of one week meant that people have kind of forgotten my blunders and really saw the performance as an average rather than these very small minute things that I was picking up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, zooming out a bit, can you share what’s sort of the big idea or main thesis behind the book Think Big?

Grace Lordan
So, I wanted to write a book that was for people who weren’t able to just upheave their lives to create huge change, because I think, here in the UK, and also in the US, we hear these stories of people who have great success, and it feels like they do it overnight. So, I wanted to write a really, really realistic book but I still wanted to write something where people ended up achieving really, really big things.

So, the starting point is getting people to think big, which really is getting somebody to imagine what their life would be in the medium term, so think years rather than months, if everything worked out and you had no constraints. So, Pete, you mentioned that you have two young kids, you would basically not say, “Okay, I have two kids I have to really factor in their care in this think big.” Instead, you would just imagine, “What if it all worked out?”

And then the second step in that is saying, “Okay, now that I have this vision of myself, what does that person actually do on a day-to-day basis?” So, I think one of the places where we fall down when we’re thinking about our future is that we visualize ourselves doing these kinds of huge big things, so declaring that we have huge earnings in our company if we’re entrepreneurs; imagining ourselves giving a statement if we were a CEO; imagining ourselves doing something else as equally impressive if we’ve gone into another kind of career aspect. But we don’t think about the tasks that actually get you there and the grit on the day-to-day basis.

So, I get people to visualize those, and, assuming that they’re happy with the tasks that they visualize, I ask them to put small steps in place that gets them doing those tasks now. Or, if they’re not able to do those tasks because of a skill deficit, to put steps in place to get those skills. If they visualize those tasks, and say, “Actually, this sounds really horrible. I like the idea of running my own company, but the day-to-day sounds terrible,” then they reiterate the process again. And, fundamentally, it’s about figuring out what you love doing, but also figuring out what you love doing that leads you to something probably bigger than you’re imagining at the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so that sounds pretty quick and zippy, Grace. Is that the case? Or, how long are we talking till we land upon a vision and a plan that feels awesome for people?

Grace Lordan
So, I think it is zippy. I have exercises in the book to get people thinking about the activities they like doing on a day-to-day basis if they don’t know what they want to do so they can map back to a big dream. I have kind of guidance on the type of skills that you need to do particular careers. So, I think the think big part is actually quite…it happens really, really quick. I love the word zippy, by the way. It is actually quite zippy.

But I think the hard part is putting the small steps in place and sticking to those small steps. So, once you get over chapter two and you have this kind of big vision in mind, the rest of the book is devoted to thinking about, “How can you stick to your small steps? How can you find time to do the small steps? How can you overcome your own biases? How can you overcome the biases of others?” And that part of the journey does take time.

And I think most of us as human beings are really…find really easy dreaming of something that we might never achieve, and those small steps are the bridge to actually making it a reality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And in the book, you’ve got six key areas: time, goal-planning, self-narratives, other people, environment, and resilience. Can you share with us a couple of your favorite tips inside each of these areas that can help us to think big and realize those big thoughts?

Grace Lordan
So, I’ve said this so many times since the book has been written, so it feels like a cliché, but it is something that’s fundamentally true, is that time is the one thing that we can’t get back. It is our most precious resource. And one of the things that I love doing, when I feel that I’m not making progress, is time audits, and I’d encourage anyone listening to do one as well, and really divide…so, firstly, auditing what they’ve on a day-to-day basis, ideally, in 15-minute increments. And then going back and asking yourself, “Which bucket do those increments fall into?”

So, firstly, “Are these things that actually allows me to be happy in the moment or allow somebody else to be happy in the moment, or give some value?” The second are the things that, actually, are investing in your future self. So, this idea of me plus, or the person who you visualize when you think big. And the last are what I call time sinkers, and these are things that absolutely waste your time.

And when I wrote the book, my biggest time sinker is sitting in meetings. I work in the university and the meetings tend to be very, very long. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK, they tend to be very, very long, very, very boring, and no decision ever gets made. A lot of small-stake stuff gets debated. So, for me, that was my time sinker to really focus in on, “Do I need to be at these meetings if nobody is actually making a decision, nobody is listening to me?”

Another time sinker for me was spending too much time on email. For other people, it could be social media, it could be online shopping, but really figuring out what those time sinkers are and re-allocating that time to invest in your future long-term self.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, Grace, I’m curious, if you determine these emails are taking too much time, these meetings are taking too much time, in practice, how does one just ditch them, it’s like, “You know what, not doing anymore. Hey, Dean, or whomever, not going to those meetings anymore”? How do you pull that off?

Grace Lordan
It’s a really great question. So, I think, for me, it’s going to be easier than for a lot of people because one of the benefits of working in the university is they have this thing called tenure, where it’s kind of hard to fire you. So, if no one is listening to you in a meeting, it’s quite valid for you to say to the chair, “No one’s paying attention to me so I’m just not going to show up for this.” And if they don’t change the meeting, I think that’s okay.

I think it’s harder if you have a job where you do have to show up, but, nonetheless, I think it’s possible. So, for people who I know who work in finance and technology companies in extraordinary competitive environments, one of the solutions that they have for the emails is to check emails at particular times during the day.

So, they’re not firefighters and they’re not heart surgeons, so if it takes them 90 minutes to respond to something, it’s not going to be the end of the world. And that batching has been extraordinarily effective for them. On meetings, and we might get into this in a while, in a lot of companies where I’ve kind of been working and kind of doing work about redesigning how leadership should look, is fundamentally is about redesigning meetings to give time back to your team.

So, again, moving away from these forums where we over-deliberate on small-stake stuff to an environment where we have trust, and bringing people together when the big things are at stake, or when you’re creating and when you’re innovating. And in the book, I talk a bit about how you can redesign meetings if you’re in charge of them, but also if you’re somebody who’s low-power, how you can nudge the person in charge to get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great turn of a phrase, deliberating on low-stake stuff. And I guess one would need to think through, “Are the low stakes just for me? Is there a low-stake for the company, for the team, or for everybody?” And I think, often, the answer is there’s little stakes for everybody. Maybe someone just doesn’t feel confident enough to make a decision on their own without gathering input. Or, they’re extroverted, they just like to chitchat.

So, I guess there’s any number of reasons why meetings appear that ought not to have appeared, but I think that’s a really great check-in question to work through there in terms of, “Is this, in fact, small stakes for everybody? And are we just talking because here we are and we’re intellectual creatures who have different ideas so we’re going to talk about them because that’s the topic placed in front of us?”

Grace Lordan
I think it comes from a really good place, so I think, as organizations grew, it was hard to build trust in organizations. Because, if we think back a hundred years as things were actually getting bigger, usually, you were just battling a growth cycle, so the idea of putting structure around meetings probably wasn’t something that dawned on anyone, particularly when people were working nine to five and time wasn’t as scarce as it is today.

I think, now, we fundamentally have an oversupply of meetings to discuss small-stakes stuff because we want to be transparent, so it comes from a really good place. So, if, for example, I’m interested in how many bike racks that I should put outside buildings, it’s nice for me to ask you, Pete, because I feel that I should be an inclusive person but, for you, that’s taking your time.

So, I think the battle for leaders and for companies now is to, firstly, figure out, “What are the things that are low stakes and what’s high stakes?” and put transparency around the low-stake stuff for the one person or the two people who might really want to see how that decision is made. They should be able to go online and look that up.

But I think for the rest of the people who are actually happy to trust and give autonomy to their teammates, then they should get on with it. And I think part of it is that leaders themselves shouldn’t be involved in the low-stakes decision-making. So, for example, if I’m in your team, Pete, and you’re the leader, you, like everyone else in the team, should accept me making decisions without you being there, and the mode of transparency that’s open to the team.

And I think I see in teams now, particularly in finance and tech where I do a lot of work, where people are moving towards that mode, and they’re getting just a lot of time back. And people are ending up being happier, safe in the knowledge that when the big decisions are being made, they’ll be called into the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I like the bike rack example a lot because you can very politely say, “You know, I trust you and whatever you decide with regard to how many bike racks is fine.” And then that might be a good little test for yourself internally, like, “Do you have any input here?” It’s like, “Actually, I guess I wouldn’t want you to add hundreds of bike racks, such that the closets are…or the hallways are really crowded, but other than that, I mean, really, you could have five, you could have 50, and it’s just fine with me.”

Grace Lordan
And most people will make a really sensible decision in that domain. And there are these experiments that are fantastic in behavioral science, where they give people things to deliberate in meetings, and they look to see how much time they spend on items, like the bike rack, as composed to items like project choice, capital structure decisions, pensions, and people tend to spend more time talking about the bike racks because, fundamentally, in meetings, most people can give an opinion on a bike rack because it’s a very easy thing for us to conceptualize.

When the material gets hard, you get much fewer questions. And, actually, for the meetings to work, we need it to be the other way around. We need it to be people like me who don’t necessarily and fully understand the question on pensions, for example, to be asking the questions so that everyone in the room gets to understand that really big decision, and we should leave the bike racks to somebody else to decide.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really good perspective, and I’m amused by podcasters. I’ve been in some podcast forums where folks have a question about, I don’t know, cover art, which kind of matters. It’s not the number one thing but it sort of matters. But that’s very easy for anyone to opine on, like, “I like the yellow one. I like the one with the bigger face,” a piece of art or design anyone can comment upon but, really, what’s most critical is, “Okay, do I have a show that serves a real audience and a real need that’s somewhat distinctive and/or superior from the alternatives available?”

But that’s a lot harder to…like, you’d actually have to do some research to be able to tell you, to opine on that as opposed to, “I like the yellow one.” And yet, yeah, that’s great. So, in a way, the primary driver of deliberation time is not so much importance or value but just, I guess, ease of folks having opinions on, opine-ability. I don’t know what we’d call that.

Grace Lordan
So, in behavioral science, there’s a whole area of research that talks about shared information versus hidden information. So, the shared information are the things that we have in common this evening when we’re talking. And for a podcast, it probably makes sense for us to focus on things that are shared, otherwise it would sound really weird for the audience.

But if we’re working together, the value of us as colleagues is actually in our hidden information, so you’ll have insights that I don’t have, and we should take time to learn those for the big stuff. But we should hire somebody who we can delegate the small stuff to so we actually have that time. So, some of the kind of work that I do is really getting people to, firstly, understand what we’re talking about to be true, but, secondly, to get comfortable talking about that hidden information.

Because one of the first things we do when we have new colleagues in companies is that we kind of condition them, if they’re going to stay with us, to conform to the type of information that we like sharing in meetings, which really gets rid of the comparative advantage we get when that person comes through the door. And it all comes down to our ego.

As humans, we just like to be comfortable in conversations where we fully understand what’s going on. But, obviously, to learn something new, there has to be lots of moments in our life where we’re sitting in rooms where we fundamentally don’t understand something. We grapple with that so we get on the same page as somebody who has a different perspective or unique information compared to us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, so we had some thoughts on time. How about self-narratives?

Grace Lordan
Yeah. So, one of the interesting things for me, because my background is in computer science, so one of the biggest learning curves for me has been that people prefer storytelling over data. One of the most interesting things to me in the psychology literature is that the biggest storytellers we are, are the stories that we essentially tell ourselves.

So, if I’m ever going to do something new, what actually goes on in my mind just before I do that particular thing is going to govern how well I actually do it in the moment, how I feel coming out of it, and whether or not I’ll engage in it again. And in Think Big, I kind of explore the idea of self-narratives that might be holding people back, like, “I’m not good enough,” “This doesn’t necessarily suit me,” “I don’t have time for this,” and really getting people to challenge those narratives so that they get to move forward in a way that feels much freer.

And I think, again, kind of in writing this and in talking to different people on their perspectives, what are the things that really stood out for me is, fundamentally, people often don’t see that. It’s themselves that are the majority of what’s holding them back as compared to other people. We usually see it really clearly if somebody else puts an obstacle in our way, but those obstacles that we have through the image we have of ourselves, which is probably not true, by the way, is something fundamentally that, I think, people need to address in order to achieve and, given the topic of this podcast, be awesome at their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, if we’re exploring the stories that we’re telling to ourselves or about ourselves, do you have any pro tips on identifying what stories may not be serving us so well, and how to reframe them?

Grace Lordan
Absolutely. So, I think that there’s kind of two different ways in which you can go about this. So, the first is that you can start listening to yourself, essentially. So, when you have these big moments, recognizing whether or not you’re going into imposter syndrome; recognizing whether or not your self-chatter is saying that you don’t necessarily have enough time, which is my one, by the way; recognizing what that actual narrative is; and challenging that narrative in the moment by giving disconfirming evidence.

And I think that there’s some good evidence in psychology that this can work for people, I’m quite skeptical because I can’t imagine myself being in a situation where I’m about to do an action that’s making me nervous, and I find myself having the strength to have that argument with myself internally. So, I prefer the other approach, which is really to, once you’ve identified that narrative, to think about actions that disconfirm that particular narrative and engage in those regularly.

So, really, for example, if you think about somebody whose self-narrative says that they’re a smoker, so they now start saying, “Actually, I’m not a smoker. I’m somebody who does something different.” So, every time that they might think of a cigarette, instead of going and smoking, they bring that narrative to the fore so that they’re swapping out one behavior for another behavior in themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then when it comes to resilience, how do we get a boost there?

Grace Lordan
So, the chapter on resilience, I actually wrote before COVID, and I think it’s been the most popular chapter in the book because, during the COVID pandemic, a lot of people really wanted to figure out how they could become more resilient when they’re at home. Again, in the same flavor as the book, I really lean on what are small things that you can do on a day-to-day basis that will preserve your resilience reserves or also enhance them.

So, I’ll give you two, which are two of my favorites. So, the first is to really reflect what you do when something negative happens to you. So, whether or not it’s a colleague insulting you, not getting a promotion, to something even bigger than that. What are the typical types of reactions that you have? So, really kind of engage in that self-awareness.

And for behavioral scientists, we call that period affect. So, basically, you’re reacting with emotion and you’re in this hot stage which probably isn’t the best for you to make decisions about your way forward, figuring out what you’re actually going to do in that period. So, for me, in the book, I give the readers a list of things that I do that range from a walk around the block when it’s something small, to taking bigger timeouts to have to spend some time with friends and get the healthy jolts of confirmation bias when things are a bit worse.

And then the second stage is dealing with the problem. And I ask people to do this ahead of time, so really think about, “When negative things happen, what are you actually going to reach with?” so that they’re not reacting with their emotions. And this is particularly useful, I think, for people who do become very emotional when things don’t actually go their way.

Within companies, you can also do this within teams so if you’re trying to build psychological safety, you could think about saying to your team, “Look, there’s going to be moments where things don’t go our way. And when things don’t go our way, we’re going to take a timeout, and this is what the timeouts can actually look like.” And that does something for the team in giving them certainty about what would happen in an uncertain situation. And with respect to the individual, you’re essentially giving yourself certainty about what you’re going to do when things don’t necessarily go wrong. So, it seems to be very effective.

The second then is to really go into a battle with loss aversion. So, if you can imagine yourself, Pete, and you’re walking down the street today, this won’t happen in London, by the way, because the weather is extraordinarily hot today, but if you’re walking down the street and it’s a rainy day, and somebody splashes you with a puddle, so they go through, you’re soak from head to toe, and you’re meant to go somewhere important. How would you react in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
I would probably say, “Aargh!”

Grace Lordan
Would you shake a fist? Would you be annoyed at the driver?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I’d be annoyed, angry, confused, startled, yeah.

Grace Lordan
Would you tell the story later to other people?

Pete Mockaitis
It really could go either way. I suppose if I was entering a room and everyone says, “Whoa, why are you covered in mud?” I would absolutely tell them.

Grace Lordan
You might do it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d probably tell my wife but, yeah, I’d probably lead with that.

Grace Lordan
But it would stick with you even for that moment where you have that angry burst, you have a negative reaction. That seems to be what most people would have, then some people would carry it with them for their day, and then some people would just find it really hard to get over. So, you have these kinds of three types of people, if you like.

You get the same when you have somebody who insults you. So, if you can imagine yourself being in the workplace and somebody says, “Pete, you’ve done an extraordinarily bad job today. I don’t know why you came to work,” usually people inside will feel quite negatively towards that person. They might tell their spouse or they might tell a friend, but it really weighs on their mind.

Or, if a colleague ignores them, the same thing. So, if a colleague ignores them, they do feel negatively towards the person, “What’s going on? Why is Jim ignoring me today? I don’t necessarily know what’s going on.” And on the other side, we don’t celebrate when we don’t get splashed by a puddle. We don’t celebrate when people are incredibly kind to us and give us compliments in work. We’re very unlikely to celebrate when somebody kind of gives us that greeting in the hall with a big smile on their face.

And it’s actually been shown kind of time and time again that people who focus on those moments, the driver who slowed down without actually splashing them and ruining their day, the person who is incredibly kind to them, the person who gives the good greeting, if you concentrate on those at a certain point in the day, which is known as gratitude in the literature, or celebrating small wins, if you’re a behavioral scientist, it really allows you to not just kind of preserve your resilience stores because it moves the focus away from bad things that have happened to positive, but also allows you to become more resilient because you recognize that you have these good things going on in your life.

And that is something that I really kind of encourage people to try and see if it works for them. For me, I’m not a great journaler so I usually do this at the end of my day, like 7:00, it would be later tonight, and I write down that I’m really grateful for a good conversation with Pete. And having those moments where I actually kind of look at my day, and say, “Yes, everything didn’t go my way but there were these things that actually stand out that life is going in the right direction,” is extraordinarily resilience-preserving and incredibly easy to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Grace, you’re also an authority on issues associated with bias. Can you speak to some of the takeaways there that can help us be more awesome at our jobs?

Grace Lordan
Yes. So, I wrote a whole chapter on bias in the book and one of the things that I ask people to recognize in the beginning is to think about what is the proportion of their journey that belongs to them, and what is the proportion of the journey where they rely on other people.

And then we go deep-diving into the biases that traditionally hold people back. And one of my favorites is confirmation bias. So, it’s my favorite because confirmation bias is both a good thing and a bad thing. So, when you’re having a really crummy day and things haven’t gone your way, you absolutely want somebody who’s going to take your side, who’s going to tell you that you’re right, and who isn’t going to put up a fight against you when you say to them it was all somebody else’s fault. You absolutely want that.

However, if we bring confirmation bias into the workplace on our regular days when we’re trying to do our job, when we’re trying to get critical feedback, it really, really will hold us back. And confirmation bias is a tendency for me to hold a belief and then go looking for evidence that actually confirms that belief.

So, for example, if I’m somebody who believes that we should go with a particular project at work, or, to use our example, that there should be ten bike racks outside the building, I will look for evidence that confirms that particular belief. But, of course, there’s lots of other perspectives that I should be taking into account when I’m making big decisions, like, the project to actually take on, a colleague to hire, or who to actually promote.

And, fundamentally, I think some of the battles that we have at the moment is getting within teams and individuals to really look outside themselves, for perspectives that aren’t their own, and to battle their own self-beliefs. And if you think about whether or not you’re growing as a person, it can be really helpful to ask yourself when was the last time that you changed your mind on something that was a fundamental belief to you.

So, you come into this world, we were brought up in a certain way, we go about our journey, and we kind of create particular beliefs. When did you actually change your mind? And in the absence of being able to identify when you changed your mind, being honest with yourself, and saying, “When did I sit down with somebody who held a different belief to me and had a conversation with them?”

And, for me, most of my work is in companies when it comes to investment choices, colleagues to hire, colleagues to promote, but you can also link this to what’s kind of going on in society and different perspectives with respect to governments and ideologies, and people just aren’t talking to each other. And what it really comes down to is, as human beings, again, our ego lends us to hanging around with people who have the same viewpoints of us and always wanting to be right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Grace, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Grace Lordan
No, I’m good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Grace Lordan
I think I’m going to go with Madeleine Albright, who has passed away very recently, who said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Grace Lordan
So, I have a number of them, but one that I refer to a lot is one that was done in the ‘60s on the Pygmalion Effect that really demonstrated that when researchers went into schools and they picked out the kids that had the highest ability, and then when they went away, and they came back and they looked at the kids’ test scores, well, they actually were kids who had done incredibly well.

But what was really unique about this study was that the kids had been randomly selected on the first day. So, they weren’t the highest ability at all, and it really demonstrated two things. So, firstly, self-belief of the kids mattered because they have been given the label that they were high ability but also the belief in the teachers towards these students.

So, if you are somebody who is struggling or who isn’t doing incredibly well at work, it might just be that you don’t have a manager who’s giving you opportunities to thrive. And why I picked that one this evening is it has been replicated many times in companies to demonstrate that somebody who isn’t doing particularly well in one team under a particular manager, when they move and the manager actually believes in them and inputs into them and gives them opportunities, they do tend to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And now could you share a favorite book?

Grace Lordan
I love a lot by Ryan Holiday. So, at the moment I’m reading Courage is Calling, which is an absolutely amazing book, and I’m really looking forward to the second part, which is coming out in September on discipline. I think the work he does that really links to stoicism and some other concepts that have been long forgotten, and bringing them into the modern day is just so unique. I would really recommend people reading him.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Grace Lordan
iPad. So, my iPad is used to check my emails. So, on every other device, I don’t have my emails come in and ping and distract me. I use my iPad as the accessory where I check my emails, and it’s been the one thing that has really allowed me to increase my productivity in the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you don’t view or reply to any emails on your computer?

Grace Lordan
No, or phone. And, at the moment, it’s in a different room, so the cost of me checking it is actually really high. So, if you said, “I want to go and just make a coffee, I’ll be back in two minutes,” previously I would be checking on my phone, answering some emails, getting distracted, and not being in the moment. Now, I have to physically walk out, get it. Sometimes I do do it on autopilot, I won’t lie, but the majority of time, it has become conscious. So, it’s not the tool itself, but it’s what it enables me to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Grace Lordan
Favorite habit is I was going to say the email checker, but I’m going to pick something different. It’s walking my dog. So, I walk her morning, afternoon, and evening, very short in the afternoon, and it’s really just a chance to get mindful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Grace Lordan
So, I say a lot that time is your most precious resource, and people do, on Instagram, let me know what they’re using their precious resource for. And so, we can’t get it back. So, really bringing people’s focus to time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Grace Lordan
www.GraceLordan.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Grace Lordan
Yes, I’d like people to make a pledge to have one small change in their life that will make them be awesome at their jobs. If they’re not sure what to do, it can be doing a time audit. So, figuring out what they did in the last week, breaking that time into 15-minute chunks, and dividing it into things that are time sinkers, things that give you happiness in the moment, and things that are going to make you move more towards your future self.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Grace, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck as you think big.

Grace Lordan
Thank you, Pete. You’re absolutely awesome.