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612: How to Find the Perfect Career Fit–An Analytical Approach–with Lindsay Gordon

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Lindsay Gordon says: "You can make absolutely any decision for absolutely any reason as long as you know why it works for you."

Lindsay Gordon reveals how to build and select excellent options for your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get “unstuck” at work 
  2. How to define success on your terms 
  3. Why it’s okay to have a “boring” job

About Lindsay

Lindsay Gordon is a career coach for analytically minded people who want to stop doing what they think is “right” in their career and start doing what’s right for them. She helps people get clarity about what’s right for them in a job and why, confident about their skills and abilities, and able to communicate that to interviewers, managers, and colleagues through her program, A Life of Options. 

She used to work as a recycled water engineer in Melbourne, Australia before landing at Google, working as technical support for the Google Apps team. After which, she moved into career development at Google before starting her own business. She earned her Bioengineering degree from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. She loves applying her engineering brain to helping people find careers that fit, baking complicated pastries and barbershop singing. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Lindsay Gordon Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lindsay, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Lindsay Gordon
Thank you for having me. I’m super happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to have you here as well. And I understand that you also do some barbershop singing with your vocal skills here.

Lindsay Gordon
I absolutely do. It is one of my hobbies. I sing baritone in the quartet which is basically all of the leftover notes in the chord, so you never want to hear a baritone singing alone because it’s a really unpleasant situation, but I promise that in the quartet it sounds much better than me singing by myself.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now, what are some barbershop hits? I don’t know the genre that well. But amongst a barbershop aficionados, what are like the classics?

Lindsay Gordon
Oh, that is a question that I am not going to be great at answering. One of the funny things about the barbershop quartet that I sing in, or the barbershop group that I sing in, is that we actually sing parodies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

Lindsay Gordon
So, we take those old songs, we write new lyrics, and then we dress up in costumes that go with the lyrics. So, we’re a little bit of a wildcard in the barbershop world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now when I think of parodies, I think of Weird Al.

Lindsay Gordon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us a sample in terms of something you parodied and that clever lyric that’s going in there instead?

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. So, we took the song “Babyface” which maybe you know, and we turned it into outer space, so it was a whole song about an alien who had a one-night stand, and it’s discovering that they are pregnant throughout the course of the song.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love it when songs are just like totally unique in terms of it’s not like, “Oh, I’m falling in love,” or, “My heart is broken.” It’s like, “Okay, we’ve heard that before.” But I’ve never heard that before. When I was in college, I sang, well, sang might be a strong word, I performed an original rap number about how I wanted to be a management consultant.

Lindsay Gordon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it was the only one, so that was actually a decent segue for what we’re doing here. Usually, they’re forced.

Lindsay Gordon
Somehow it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Usually, they’re pretty forced and awkward, Lindsay, but that works. We’re talking about career coaching, career decision-making, strategery, that good stuff. So, you have an interesting moniker. You call yourself a career coach for analytically-minded people. I have a feeling I’m one of them. How do we know if we’re analytically-minded person? What sets us apart?

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. So, it is all in the way that you like to process information and make decisions. So, the reason I say that I’m a career coach for analytically-minded people is because I have an engineering background, which is quite unusual for a career coach. So, when I think about the work that I do, I’m taking my engineering brain, applying it to this question of, “How do we even know what we’re looking for in a job that’s going to be a good fit for us? How do we make that decision that we’re going to feel really good about? And how do we do that in the most practical and structured way?”

So, if you love a good framework, if you love structured exercises to go through, if you like to process information in a very logical format, that’s the type of analytical-minded person that really connects with the work that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. That’s just so clear in terms of some people say, “Yes, that’s so me,” and other people say, “Nuh-uh,” but then you know and then you can move, go on your merry way pretty quickly and know if you want to dig in deep. And so, your program is called A Life of Options. Options sound good. Tell us, what’s the ethos behind that name and vibe?

Lindsay Gordon
Everything that I do is about you having choice, feeling good about your choices, feeling like you have choices at any point in your career, and knowing that at any moment, you can proactively cultivate something that is going to be a good fit for you in your career. I think a lot of times people spend time being stuck, feeling like they’re unhappy, they don’t know what to do, it’s too late to make a change, they’ve spent too many years going down one direction. Whatever it is, I want you to feel like you always have options.

One of the things I always tell my clients is I want them to see themselves as an opportunity-creating machine by the time they get out of my program. So, if they are somewhere where they’re not happy, they have all the tools to be able to have conversations to know what they’re looking for and to cultivate those things so they feel like they always have options.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s hit this one right up front then, talk about always having options and being an option-generating machine. I think that, hey, economies go in cycles, and so as we record this in the latter half of 2020, COVID is a hot topic, and an inescapable one, so that has economic ramifications, good for some, bad for many. Why don’t you lay that on us, first of all, in terms of in this particular economy, and in recession-type economies, just how picky can we afford to be? How demanding can we be? How many options can we realistically think about generating before we’re kind of, I don’t know, in a fantasy land?

So, I think that’s kind of a tension between something too small, it’s like, “No, you’re really not stuck. There are many other opportunities,” and some people think unrealistically, like, “Hey, it’d be great to earn 300K by doing almost nothing at what you love,” like almost nobody does that, so maybe you’ll find something else. So, help us navigate that.

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. And I am a very practical realistic person so I think that’s a great thing to point out of I am not just about, “Quit and do your passion. And you can do everything. There’s a dream job out there.” Right, there is some reality to it. I have been quite amazed actually at how many people are getting new jobs that I am working with. So, that is one datapoint that I have of, “Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of people struggling, a lot of industries that are not hiring, that have hiring freezes,” and, as you say, it’s interesting to look at what are the fields and places that are actually thriving despite the situation. So, I think that’s one thing to consider where you’re looking.

I also think options is broader than just getting a new job. So, I want you to feel like you have agency within your role, within your company, to be able to create things that may not look like a big change, because it might not be the right time to make a big change, and I acknowledge that, but to be able to say, “What agency do I have? Where do I have control over what I’m creating in my current role? Are there other opportunities for me to be even happier and thriving more in my current job? Are there options for me to look around the company? Are there options for me to create opportunities that have not yet existed within the company?” So, I think that’s important to talk about too when we talk about options, having the agency within your job to find ways to thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, so let’s dig in then. So, you work with a lot of people who feel kind of stuck in their job and their careers. Can you tell us, what are kind of the big drivers of that, like the top reasons folks are not feeling happy and satisfied with their current career situation?

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. The biggest thing that I see is that people do not know what they want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lindsay Gordon
And what happens when you don’t know what you want is you start doing many things. You start defining your own success based on what success looks like to other people. You listen to the noise of what does society think we should want in a job, what does your family think you should want in a job. We start to look around and have the grass is greener situation. We start to get distracted by shiny objects. And then, all of that, creates tension because we do not know what we want.

Another piece of this is a common experience where people have fallen into jobs and they have not proactively chosen or put any intention into that. So, then you start to have this question of, “Is this even the right thing for me? I never really chose this. I kind of fell into marketing, and now I’m like 15 years in. How do I know if this is actually the right thing for me?” So, first, we’re missing clarity, and then we’re missing the way to answer that question of, “Is this the right fit for me?” and feel really good about that decision that you’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, for folks who don’t know what you want, how do you start to know?

Lindsay Gordon
Yup. So, I do a couple of things. I think it’s really important to know what is important to you and how work fits into that. So, that can look like values, that can look like an exercise from “Designing Your Life” called the work manifesto, that can also look like strengths. I help people be incredibly clear about, “What comes easily to you? What do you enjoy doing? How is that engaged with your work?” I also look at things like, “What working conditions do you need?” It’s really important what environment we are in in order to thrive.

So, looking at, “What physical environment do I need? What type of people do I need to be around? What type of work do I need to be doing?” So, there are these different categories that I help people understand, “Oh, this is exactly what I need in this area,” and then you can start to compare it to, “Okay, how well is that being honored and prioritized in your job? And what adjustments do you need to make?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. And so then, in terms of assessing how well it’s being honored in your job, is there a particular framework you use to evaluate that? Or, are there sort of factors, drivers, criteria that we’re scoring, thinking analytically here? How do we do that?

Lindsay Gordon
So, I have created a spreadsheet that I like to call The Next Steps Tracker, and it basically allows you to look at every job you are considering, if you’re considering next moves, if you have often thought about going back and doing more school. Like, a lot of people who talk to me are like, “Should I go get an MBA? I’ve been considering that for five years, and I need to make a decision.”

So, in the columns, we can put the things that we’re considering, or our current job, and then we start to look at, “Okay, here are my top values. Here are my top strengths. Here are the working conditions I need in order to thrive.” And I basically have people go through and look at, “Okay, this top value. Is that being honored and prioritized? Yes. No. Unclear.”

And then we get this big framework of, “Okay, here are the things that might be out of alignment. They are two out of my top five strengths. One of these working conditions isn’t really fitting.” Great. So, then that gives us a place to start to look at adjusting, “How would I put more of these strengths in my role? What opportunities are there? How would I shift this particular environment to be able to be a better fit?” So, it really is just making a list of all the things that are important to you and applying it to your job to see where you want to make changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, then. So, then within that, it sounds pretty darn custom as oppose to, you know, I’ve created something before, it’s like, “Hey, there’s 15 career happiness drivers. Let’s look at them and let’s score them.” But it sounds like you’re taking a more personal approach in terms of, “No, there’s maybe not 15. There’s maybe a billion. And we’ve selected the six that are kind of resonating the most for you personally.” Can you maybe give us an example of a story of someone who they’re kind of stuck, and then they zeroed in on what they want, and then how they evaluated the next steps along those lines, and then made a call, and it worked out smashingly?

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. So, I think that the important part that you’ve highlighted is that it is based on individual definitions of success, and that’s really a big part of my work of there are all these definitions of, “What does success look like? What does growth look like? What does recognition look like?” But, actually, if you don’t know what the definition is for you yourself, then you are going to be comparing yourself to these external definitions, and not getting the type of fulfillment that you want.

So, one example, I had a client come to me, convinced that she needed to leave her company, convinced that she needed to leave the field that she was in that happened to be aerospace engineering, and pretty much just done, “All right. Ready to get out. Need to figure out what the next thing is.” So, I took her through the process of, “What are the values, what are the strengths, what are the environments that are important to you?” And what she found, a huge part of what was missing for her is her strengths of teaching and facilitating, and she was not getting any of that in the type of engineering work that she was doing. And so, that was new to her. Because what I find is a lot of people are surprised that they have strengths or just don’t know what they are.

And so, once she figured that out, she’s like, “Oh, yeah, teaching and facilitating is huge to me. That’s really what’s been missing.” So, then we started looking around, “Okay, what is internal to the company that could be a better fit for that now that you’ve identified this piece that’s missing?” And so, what she was able to find is a three-year rotation program that is all about teaching and facilitating for the engineers of the company, so less doing the actual engineering but now doing the teaching and facilitating of the others. And she would have never thought to look around at other positions within the company, she would’ve never thought to look at staying in the field that she had already spent 15 years in, but she was able to find this different implementation of her strengths, and absolutely loves and is thriving in that role.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. And so then, that gets you situated in terms of zeroing in on what you dig in and then identifying the opportunities and how that can align to it. And I think that there’s a good gem there associated with the knee jerk reaction of, “I got to get out of here.” It’s telling you something, but getting out of there may very well not be the optimal pathway. Could you speak to that?

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. So, most people come to me thinking they needed to quit their job, they’re unhappy in some way, they can’t figure it out, easiest thing to do is quit. What I realized about a year or two ago is that I am accidentally running an employee retention program. So many people come to me needing to quit, so many people do not end up not quitting their job. I don’t have current numbers, but when I crunched the numbers of about two years ago at that point, for the people who came to me who are currently in a job, more than 50% of them ended up staying in their job. So, that’s where I got this hypothesis that when we think we need to quit, it is actually that we are not clear about what we want, what might be out of alignment in this current role, and there are so many people. I can give you one other example.

A client came to me, “I need to quit. I’m done with this field. I need to figure out what my next thing is.” Two session into working with me, she just starts laughing, and she’s like, “So, this job is actually a great fit for me. It’s a great fit for my strength. It’s a great fit for what’s important to me. And, actually, what I want to do is make these two small changes and continue to grow in this particular area.” And now she is thriving. She is getting promotions. She loves the work. From the outside, absolutely nothing changed, not a single thing in her circumstances. Everything was the mindset about, “What is this job to me? How does it align with what I want?” And that made all of the difference in the work world.

So, really interesting that once you get people really clear about what they want and confident about those decisions, a lot of people end up deciding that they don’t actually need to quit their job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very nice. And you’ve got a particular take on boring jobs. Let’s hear it.

Lindsay Gordon
I love to tell people that it is okay to have a boring job if it works for you. And this is kind of a provocative idea…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m provoked.

Lindsay Gordon
…that gets some people really riled up, and I think that’s good. I think it goes to this point of we need to do what is right for us. And for some people, their passion and purpose and meaning and drive is going to come from work. Great. For others, that passion and purpose and meaning and drive is going to come from outside of work. And so, sometimes, a boring job can allow you to do things that are most important to you, about the contribution you want to make in this world outside of work.

So, let me give you one example of how a boring job has been very beneficial to one of my clients. So, she came to me in a self-described boring job, and she was underutilized, and there wasn’t a lot of challenge going on, and so we started looking at, “Okay, what might be interesting to you? What are your strengths? What are your interests?” And one thing that came out to her is that she might want to be a grief counselor. This is something she had not considered before but it really connected with her experience, and so she said, “Oh, interesting. I keep seeing these themes of the strengths that are aligned with that and the type of contribution that I want to make.”

So, what she used her boring job for was to test that out. So, I’m a very risk-averse person, I do not want anyone to just quit their jobs, burn it all down, go and do their passion because they think it’s the right thing without de-risking the process as much as possible with as much prototyping as we can do. So, for her, she started using her extra time and mental energy, which is usually what you get from a boring job, and she started volunteering with a crisis hotline and spent time doing that to test that out. And then she started testing out looking at different schooling options that she could take on.

So, she used her boring job to get more information about what was going to give her more purpose and passion in her next role, and use that in order to become a grief counselor. And she emailed me, I think, sometime last year, a couple of years after we had worked together, and she was like, “Lindsay, I am about to graduate, and I’m about to have my first client.” And the whole process had felt good to her because she had de-risked it, she had tested it out, she had stayed in that boring job that allowed her to still have financial stability while she moved to her next profession.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great point, that the boring jobs are to offer you that time and mental energy. Whereas, thrilling jobs tend to be intense, have some pressure, need you to be kind of…or pull you into thinking about them a lot because they’re interesting, and you might noodle on the unsolved mystery for while you’re commuting or maybe when you’d rather not be, when you’re at home with family, etc. So, that is a nice highlight there.

I’m thinking, boy, a couple examples come to mind. I remember Albert Einstein, when he was in the patent office, said it gave him a lot of time to think. That served him well, having that time to think. Or, a fictitious example is that Gerry or Garry or Larry Gergich from “Parks and Rec” just had this land government job but he likes being able to reliably return to his lovely family at a consistent time, and that really was what did it for him. And that’s a good example, specifically, of if we think about sort of societal or external expectations for what a good job is supposed to be, it’s like, “Oh, it’s got to be your passion, it’s got to be thrilling, and it needs to be so exciting and engaging.”

Lindsay Gordon
Everything to you. Have all your fulfillment, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And, yeah, I guess some people, it’s not applicable to all people, I think, and/or even at times of your life in terms of like, “Hey, this thrilling job was awesome until I had some babies, and then it’s like this thrilling job is taking me away from that, and I don’t care for it as much.” So, things can evolve over time as well.

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah, one of my earliest clients came to me. She was in a very high-paying lawyer job, and all of her friends and family were saying, “Oh, my gosh, you’re being underchallenged, like they’re not using you to your full extent. You’re bored. You really should make a change and go get a job that is more deserving of your talents.” And so, she came to me, and she was like, “Well, maybe I need to get a new job because this one, you know, everyone’s telling me that I need something new.” When we did the values exercise, she said, “Number one right now is financial stability and the ability to have time with my young son.” And that gave her ultimate confidence to say, “Actually, at this phase in life, for what I want in this moment, for what’s important to me, this job is perfect.”

And so, she was able to just let go of all of the external noise from friends, family, who always want the best for us but they don’t always know what that is, and she was able to say, “You know what, thank you, friends and family. Appreciate that. And I know why this job is actually the perfect fit for me at this phase in life.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really excellent, and it gets me thinking here. Yeah, I want to zero in on what you said with regard to the confidence because I think that’s sort of, emotionally speaking, a fundamental difference from the beginning to the end of this process. It’s like, “I have no idea. What am I doing? Is this the wrong thing? Aah,” to, “All right. This is what I’m going to do.” And, boy, there is just something so powerful about when you have that conviction that, “This is what it is.”

Because it’s sort of like all of the mental energy and time spent, like, “Oh, maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that. I don’t quite know. Oh, I don’t really feel like I could maybe take that risk or ask for help in this direction if I’m not really sure I’m going to utilize that advice or take advantage of what someone is helping me out with.” Like, all kinds of things fall away and power jet fuel is working for you when you’ve got that confidence. So, tell us, what are the fundamental ingredients in terms of what it takes to arrive at the place of totally confident versus, “Oh, that kind of seems like a good move”?

Lindsay Gordon
Yeah. One thing that I’d like to tell clients is that I promise them deeply unsexy results. There is nothing exciting about when they get through my program. There’s nothing flashy. They will most likely not have made a huge change in their job, but what happens is that deep, grounded, calming conviction of, “This is what I want. This is what is right for me.” And so, it’s so fun explaining it in that way because people are like, “What? Deeply unsexy results. Do I want that?” Like, yes, you absolutely want that.

So, when I think about what it takes to have confidence in your decisions, it comes back to clarity. One of the phrases that I like for clients to use a lot when they are in interviews, when they are having conversations about creating opportunities within their current role, is, “I know I thrive when X, Y, Z is happening, when I’m in this type of environment, when I’m doing this type of work. Can you tell me about how that might be connected to this role that you’re pitching to me, or to this company that I’m thinking about joining?” So, it’s all about, “I know when I thrive. This is very clear for me. And now all I’m doing is connecting that to the opportunity at hand.” So, that deep, deep clarity gives you the confidence to say, “I know that this thing is going to be the right thing for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Lindsay Gordon
And I will give you a quick example of that. So, I had a client who was contacted by recruiters all the time, and the recruiter would be like, “Hey, hey, hey, want this shiny job at Facebook?” And then she would go into the, exactly what you were talking about, this energy-draining like, “Oh, my gosh, do I want the shiny thing? This company is so great. Everyone else thinks that I should work there,” and we’re just like giving all of our energy away, and just waffling and second-guessing and all of that. So, that had been her experience up until working with me.

And after she worked with me, she got a call from a recruiter, the recruiter said, “Hey, hey, hey, this shiny job, like do you want this thing?” And she said, “Thank you so much. That job is not a good fit for me for these three reasons. What I’m looking for, which will allow me to thrive, are these three things. If you find opportunities like that, I would love to hear about them.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Lindsay Gordon
End of story. There’s no waffling, there’s no, I like to call, the whirlwind of chaos, of, “Ugh, do I want the thing?” So, as you said, it’s just like the jet fuel of power in the direction you know is going to be impactful for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, when you talk about recruiters calling all the time and, “Ooh, do I want that thing?” that sparks…let’s talk about money. Sometimes it’s almost hardwired into us, like, “Of course, the right move is the one that is the most lucrative.” And so, that can be a stumbling block, and I know that that’s not true. Many people have chosen new opportunities that have less money but they are so glad they did. And that happened to me, I was in strategy consulting, I went to do my own thing, and there were several years which is like, “Hmm, I sure will have a lot more money if I were still strategy consulting.”

Lindsay Gordon
Yes, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And now, fortunately, I think this has gone well and I’ve got both, so happy ending. But other people are fine at the happiness without that. So, how do we think about money, happiness, and if that’s really in you deep, what do you do with it?

Lindsay Gordon
Two things I think to consider. So, the first is values. When I do my values exercise, what I have people do is make a list of all the decisions that they’ve made in their life, and then start to look at the motivations behind those decisions. So, it’s kind of looking at the data of how you have lived your life so far to come up with your list of values. For some people, financial security is a huge part of those values. For other people, financial security does not come up as a big part of their values. So, that’s one thing, is to think about how big is that in your set of values. So, that’s one input.

Another framework I really like, which is from the book Designing Your Work Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, they think about it as three different sliders in your career. So, there are three ways to think about what it is that you do and how you get compensated for your work. So, one is obviously money, and that’s the one we think of most often. The next is impact, and the next is expression. And so, they think of it as sliders that you can move around at any point based on what your needs are at any phase of life based on what’s important to you at any phase in life.

So, let’s say when you are first starting out, you want to make sure that you are financially secure. This is the first time you’re needing to pay rent. You want to start to thinking about putting away for retirement. You need to pay off student loads, whatever it is. Maybe money is the highest one of those sliders.

Then a couple of years into your career, maybe you decide that impact is a place that you want to prioritize more in your career. So, you could think about dialing down the money dial a little bit and increasing the impact dial. Same with expression. So, I just liked the way that they think about the balance of those three things. And, again, thinking about you need in your life, what phase of life are you at, what’s important to you, and what is the balance that you want for those three sliders.

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

Lindsay Gordon
I think two things that are the easiest for somebody to do in order to think about making decisions that feel good to them with confidence where they can thrive. One is get clear about what your strengths are. If assessments are the way that you really enjoy doing that, StrengthsFinder has a fantastic one that I’ve been using for years. It’s 20 bucks. It will give you incredible vocabulary about what your top strengths are, how they interact, and how they might relate to your role. So, that’s something that people can do really easily to figure out how to thrive more in their job.

And then second is it’s really important to start to define some of the nebulous words that we use around career development. So, we talk a lot about growth, we talk a lot about recognition, we talk a lot about mentorship, and when we say those words, it can mean something totally different to every person that you talk to. So, for example, recognition is something that comes up all the time, “I don’t feel recognized in my job.” “Oh, okay. What’s happening?” They say, “Well, my manager is talking about me in our team meetings, and sharing her gratitude and appreciation there.” I’m like, “Okay, that sounds like recognition. But that doesn’t seem to be working for you.” And the client said, “Oh, yeah, recognition for me is getting paid more. That’s how I know what my value is.”

And so, when you are talking to your manager, and saying, “I don’t feel recognized,” and your manager is saying, “What are you talking about? I’m talking about you in team meetings. I’m putting you up for promotions, whatever it is.” I want you to have the definition that works for you so that you can have a much better conversation with people around you as to how to get the things that are important to you.

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

Lindsay Gordon
Yes. One of my favorite quotes is the one about, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. And the second-best time is now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Lindsay Gordon
I think we spend so much time beating ourselves up about past decisions, convincing ourselves it’s too late, waffling and all this energy draining. I want to help people redirect that energy and focus on, “What has happened has happened. What are we taking action on now to make things better in our career?”

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

Lindsay Gordon
I just read about this recently in the book Range.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had David on the show.

Lindsay Gordon
Oh, that’s amazing. Gosh, I love that book. So, I loved his mention of match quality, which is the term that economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are. And they mentioned a study at Harvard called “The Dark Horse Project.” And, in a nutshell, basically, everybody who has found success in their role in the study has followed what they talked about as a really unusual path. And everyone was like, “Ugh, I don’t know that I would recommend this. But this is how I got to where I am.” So, it was incredible that, in the study, they all thought that they were the anomaly for having an unusual career path, and yet that was actually a dominant outcome of the study.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a study inside a book. But I want to ask about a favorite book too.

Lindsay Gordon
Favorite book, Essentialism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Lindsay Gordon
Tagline: Disciplined Pursuit of Less. That book is filled with terrifying truth about how much we let everything else in the world dictate our energy, our time, and attention, and what we can do to actually achieve focus in our life and in our work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

Lindsay Gordon
I would say The Five Minute Journal. It is a book that I discovered recently that has a couple of questions at the start of the day, a couple of questions at the end of the day, “What are you grateful for? What would be great? What do you want to create today? And what’s an affirmation?” And then a check-in in the evening, “What went really well today? And what could you have done better?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Lindsay Gordon
I have recently started waking up at the same time every day, and it is incredible at how even just that small change to eliminate decision fatigue has been awesome. So, getting up at the same time, and reading for 30 minutes as soon as I get up.

Pete Mockaitis
And that includes your Saturdays and Sundays?

Lindsay Gordon
That does not. That’s probably an area of opportunity. I’m not quite there yet. I’m not normally a morning person, so this is like a change for me. But, yes, I know that it would actually be better for me if I do it every single day, so I appreciate that challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with your people again and again?

Lindsay Gordon
You can make absolutely any decision for absolutely any reason as long as you know why it works for you.

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

Lindsay Gordon
Website is a great place to get in touch, ALifeofOptions.com. And I would also love to have you connect with me on LinkedIn. Every Tuesday I share awesome reflections from my work with clients and help you think about action that you can take in your career, so I’d love to connect with you there as well.

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

Lindsay Gordon
We talk a lot about having it figured out, “I should have it figured out by now,” “I’m behind,” “Everybody else seems to have it figured out.” I would love to challenge you to shift your goal from having it all figured out to a quote from “Designing Your Life,” which talks about playing the infinite game of becoming more and more yourself with each day.

So, instead of this endpoint of having it figured out, I want you to ask yourself each day, “How can I become more of myself today and bring what makes me unique into the world, into the work, and into my contributions?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lindsay, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and all the best.

Lindsay Gordon
Thank you so much.

608: Finding Extreme Clarity for Better Career Fit with Tracy Timm

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Tracy Timm says: "He or she with the most clarity wins in times of major uncertainty."

Tracy Timm discusses how to define your professional value and find greater fulfillment in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three types of fit that determine career satisfaction 
  2. Why an emphasis on job titles hurts our careers 
  3. How to get clear on your toughest decisions in one hour 

About Tracy

Tracy Timm is the founder of The Nth Degree® Career Academy, the proven career clarity system that helps high-potential professionals discover, define, and drive careers they love. She has a degree in behavioral psychology from Yale University and studied design thinking with the founder of the d.school at Stanford University. 

Tracy left a successful but unsatisfying career in finance, traveled once around the world on Semester at Sea, and discovered her ideal career. For more than five years, she has applied these lessons in her career advisory work with hundreds of individuals and over one hundred fast-growing companies. Tracy lives in Dallas, Texas. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Tracy Timm Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tracy, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Tracy Timm
I’m super pumped, man. It’s been a long time coming, some mutual friends between the two of us, and this is going to be a fun conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for your patience. It’s all my fault that it was a long time coming.

Tracy Timm
Oh, my gosh. Absolutely not. You’re a busy man.

Pete Mockaitis
We take our time when we investigate or stalk prospective guests, and, well, you came up tremendously. So, I want to hear, first of all, you have won three different national championships in two different sports. What’s the story here? What are the sports? And how did you do that?

Tracy Timm
I did not achieve that level of success again until I was a senior in college, and not in softball but, actually, I had finally got recruited at Yale to play softball, I played for two years, and then I quit the softball team to do other things and find something that I really enjoyed, and I started playing club volleyball for the team on campus but the club team not the varsity team, and we won a national championship my senior year. And, like, nobody saw it coming, it was the most random event of all time. Yeah, nobody saw the Yale volleyball team coming. But we had so much fun, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. So, we’re talking about you’re being unstoppable in the world of careers. So, I’m curious, do you think there’s a parallel in terms of your sports championship unstoppability when it comes to being unstoppable in your career?

Tracy Timm
Oh, man. Yeah, when I was getting recruited out of college, and I was finding that a lot of companies, and you might know this already, are really interested in hiring athletes because of the background of dedication and hard work that they’ve shown in one particular area of pursuit. So, yeah, I think that there’s an element of relentlessness and grit and persistence.

And the thing that I always tell people now is, like, especially if you’re in a job where you’re doing something like sales, or you’ve got quotes, or you have to perform to a certain level, when you’re an athlete, especially, let’s say baseball or softball, success is hitting the ball three times out of ten. A 300-batting average is excellent, and anything above that we’re like, “Oh, my gosh. Can you believe it?”

But that means bad athletes go back to the dugout seven out of ten times, so you have to develop this just like skin on you that is, “You know what, three out of ten is a huge win, and if I can do a little bit more than that, I feel amazing about myself.” You get beat down a lot so, yeah, I think that there’s an element if you really want to feel unstoppable of building that muscle over time. And, certainly, being an athlete would help with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that three out of ten, I have a spreadsheet when I evaluate all these different business initiatives, and that’s just my assumption is that, “Yeah, there’s about a 30% chance this thing will work, and a 70% chance I will torch all that time and money and it will yield nothing.”

Tracy Timm
Oh, God. I’ve never thought about it like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, hey, hope your book takes off, Tracy, but…

Tracy Timm
Geez Louise, we’re going to be one of those three out of ten times this book. It’s a good book.

Pete Mockaitis
And if it isn’t, just write three more books.

Tracy Timm
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s all. That’s all, Tracy. Just do that. Well, let’s dig in a little bit in terms of so, Unstoppable: Discover Your True Value, Define Your Genius Zone, and Drive Your Dream Career. That sounds awesome. I want to hit, first of all, if anyone is feeling not so unstoppable because maybe they were laid off with COVID and they don’t know just how choosy or big dreamy they can be right now, what would you say to them?

Tracy Timm
My heart really, first and foremost, goes out to those people because we are in weird times and more than ever in, maybe, our lifetime, myself being only 32, about to turn 33, this is some of the most uncertain times that we’ve lived through at our age. But what I think we all could benefit from and take a step back and get some perspective on is that, yes, this is a kind of a weird crazy time, but, to me, the pandemic is just a reminder that life is crazy and uncertain.

And as much as we think we have control over anything going on, let alone our careers, it’s largely an illusion that we are dictating exactly where our future is going at any given time, which is not a reason to give up, but it’s a reason to maybe put where you’re going through right now into some perspective, and maybe take a little bit of the pressure off of yourself, and ask yourself, “Okay, if life is inherently uncertain, and, yes, we’ll get back to something that looks like a new normal, but I can never really depend on things the way that I used to, how am I going to respond? How am I going to react?”

And, in my business right now, what we’re seeing is that he or she with the most clarity wins in times of major uncertainty. So, when there are more people applying for the same amount of jobs and, of course, it’s going to mean more people with maybe better credentials than have ever applied for those jobs, I’m hearing crazy stories, like people with PhDs applying for jobs that don’t even require bachelor’s degrees type of thing, the question becomes, “How do I compete? Or, how do I find my way back to some semblance of clarity and confidence and certainty?”

And I think the answer has to be you have got to go back to the basics and figure out what is truly valuable about you as a professional and an individual and be able to articulate that value incredibly clearly to someone who is in the position to hire you or to employ you in some way. So, I get it, and it’s hard. It’s not easy to stare down the barrel especially if you’ve had a pretty stable existence so far, or maybe you’ve lived a very reactionary career so far, but I don’t think that those are your people. I think your people are the proactive ones who are looking for, “Okay, how do I make the most of this time? How do I bounce back better? How do I take advantage of this white space?” And it’s all about clarity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much because that’s been my own experience with, boy, when I get really clear, results are happening. That’s just like, boom. And I think my problem is, I’m thinking about the StrengthsFinder, Ideation and Activator are two of my top strengths, and so I just get a lot of ideas and I want to do a lot of ideas, like, “Waah!” And then, in so doing, well, not a lot of things get all the way to the done finish line. And then when I’m really clear, it’s like, “No, no, Pete, I am completely certain that this is the critical thing that needs my attention right now, and, thusly, I’m going to do it,” then some cool things start happening.

And so, that’s my experience kind of in the entrepreneurial realm. And I love what you’re saying is when you’re in job-seeking, job-hunting professional career mode, it’s powerful, well, not only because I think you can dig deep and be super impressive and dazzle people with the research you’ve done because you had a narrower field of stuff you’re going after, but, also, that you’re articulating your stuff so well, it’s just impressive, like, “Okay. Well, that’s amazing. That’s exactly what we need,” or, “You know what, that’s not what we need, but you were so clear, this other thing over here is exactly what you want. Go talk to them instead of us.” Boom!

Tracy Timm
You’re so right. You’re absolutely right.

Tracy Timm
The cool thing, too, is that leaders want that amount of clarity. Like, we’ve had multiple times where graduates of our program have gone to their bosses and said, “I did this work and I know exactly what I want to do. And here’s why I’m the best at it,” and they’re like, “I wish everyone of my people could tell me that,” because they’re playing a guessing game, “We’ve got this sort of team full of athletes, if you will, and we’re trying to figure out what positions to put them in to get the best results of the business.” And if you don’t know your value, they’re definitely not going to have absolute clarity into your value either, so it’s only mutually beneficial.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you break that into three components, they each start with D: discover, define, and drive. Can you give us a quick overview of what does that mean and how do we do some of that? And then we’ll go on in a little more depth.

Tracy Timm
Yeah, let’s do it. So, I find that what happens is a lot of people, if you were to say, like, ‘Discover comes first, define comes second, and drive comes third,” a lot of people in the midst of uncertainty, and, especially career uncertainty, jump to the third piece, which is drive. So, they start networking, and they’re all over LinkedIn, and they’re all over job boards, and they’re contacting recruiters, and they’re applying to jobs. And what they’ve done is put the cart before the horse.

So, I like to go all the way back to the beginning. When I deal with somebody who’s in any way uncertain, unclear, and unconfident in who they are as a professional, then we have to go all the way back to the beginning, we have to go all the way back to the foundation of what makes you you. So, in order to do that, we have to go through a really solid discovery process of what those individual, I’ll call them puzzle pieces, of your professional value are.

And then, once we’ve done that deep dive, that discovery part, that’s when we can transition into the define phase. So, once we’ve done all the discovery, we’ve got all your puzzle pieces, then we can set them all out on the table, create the framework for success for you, and put those puzzle pieces together properly, aka define your genius zone as a professional.

And it’s only when we’ve defined what your niche is in the world, your ideal best and highest value, what’s called your Olympic gold medal level ideal profession where you have the best chance of succeeding at the highest level, adding the most value, and getting the most in return, only then do you want to go in the drive component, which is, “Okay, now I’m going to actually take action on this. I’m going to network my tail off. I’m going to navigate with more certainty. So, I’m going to actually test drive my ideas and really explore with interest and adventure what it is that I can do, and really nourish myself along the way.”

So, yeah, I think you have to go back to the foundational components before you can really jump into the doing and the tasks, which is hard for people like me, frankly, who are like high sense of urgency, go, go, go. I have Activator and Maximizer in my top five, so I’m all about getting on the road and getting going, and 75% done is usually completely done for me, and I’m onto the next thing. So, yeah, I really encourage people to go back to the drawing board. And it may sound like starting over, but what it’s really doing is honoring all of the value that both comes naturally and easily, and from a values perspective to you, as well as that that you’ve learned and earned over time, and making sure you don’t waste any of that energy or experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. I think it makes sense in terms of, especially if it’s like, “Uh-oh, income has disappeared. I need that stat. So, that path through that is get a job. So, where are the jobs? I want to go after the jobs.” So, it’s natural as sort of an apparent knee-jerk reaction but I’m right with you that for it to be the most enjoyable, lucrative, complementary job, you’re going to have to do some of that discover and define stuff. So, how do we go about doing this discovering of our true value?

Tracy Timm
Yeah. So, I find that, you know, when I first started my business, my story goes all the way back to the fact that I graduated with a degree in psychology that I loved, but then I had no idea how to apply that professionally. I didn’t know how to translate that desire and interest and learning something into a role that I would do day in and day out, that I wouldn’t get bored with, and so I did it all wrong.

My first job out of college was on Wall Street, and I ended up being miserable and quitting that job, and traveling around the world, and spent every last time I had, and all that stuff. And so, one day, I just remember sitting down, the truth of it is I got fired from a job that was a horrible fit for me, and I was like, “Okay, self, like if this thing doesn’t work, like, what do you really want? Like, who do you have a heart to serve? And what problem do you want to solve for them? And who do you think about when you’re falling asleep? What is the thing that’s just on your heart?”

And, for me, it was that person that I was years before that who had all this potential that was just like bundled up inside and looking for a route out, looking for the thing in the world that you could go just slay at, right?

So, it took me three years to develop this methodology, and I was coaching people on the side, I was working as a human capital advisor.

And so, over that three years, I was discovering what elevates a person from an employee. So, let’s just say you’re an asset, you’re a line item on a spreadsheet, you’re having to justify your paycheck every two weeks, to, “What takes that person and elevates them from that to an asset?” Because once you’re an asset, you are irreplaceable. We’ve worked with all those people, where you’re like, “Oh, my God. How could we do business without Kim? Like, does someone else in the world have Kim’s job?” Probably. “Does someone else in the world have Kim’s sort of pedigree or whatever?” Definitely. But there’s something about Kim in that role, in that company, with that team that makes her unstoppable.

So, the magic combination I’ve found is three things. There are three specific ways you can fit into a company and three specific ways that a role can really be a deep fit for you, and if you have all three, then you become that asset in that area.

So, the first three steps are now, nature, and nurture, and this is exactly the formula that you need to discover what your niche is in the world, or your true value as a professional. The now component is made up of your core values and your commitments to yourself and your lifestyle, and that equates to what type of culture fit you’re going to be in a company. So, now is kind of your culture fit.

The second puzzle piece, or handful of puzzle pieces if you might say, is I call it nature. And so, nature is your personality, your gifts, your behaviors, your talents, and even your aptitudes, things that just come naturally and easily to you. And that’s how you become a strong behavioral fit in an environment, or a company, or a role.

And the last set of puzzle pieces I call nurture, and nurture is everything else. It’s what your cumulative life experiences have taught you. So, it’s education, it’s work experience, it’s even things in our 30-day program we call your ninja skills. So, that’s, “What did you learn from travel? And what did you learn from your hobbies? And what did you learn from your extracurriculars and volunteering?” All of that adds value as a professional person, and so you’ve got to write those things down and articulate what those values are. It’s skills, it’s knowledge, it’s expertise.

And if you stack those three items on top of one another, so the foundation is now, it’s your core values, and then you layer on how you’re naturally good in that area, and you layer on top of that what you’ve learned or studied or practiced or experienced, then, and only then, do you become this sort of Olympic-level athlete at your job. And then we can say, “Okay, if you’re Usain Bolt, then we know exactly the one event on the track that’s perfect for you. If you’re Michael Phelps, we know exactly the one event in the pool that’s perfect for you to win the most gold medals,” in this case, to achieve at the highest level, to have success, to have it sustainably, and to become an asset in a business, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, as opposed to a liability or just an employee.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if the now leads to a cultural fit in the organization, and the nature of the nature leads to behavioral fit in the organization, what does the nurture kind of fit lead to?

Tracy Timm
Job fit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, job fit.

Tracy Timm
That’s like, “Do you have the skills or the knowledge or the expertise to do the thing that you’re required to do?” And if you have all three, the cool thing is that you know how to do it, it comes to you also without having to work as hard as someone else, and you deeply value it so you’re likely to work harder at it than anyone else, and that’s the magic. It’s sort of amplifies or, what’s the word, exponentiates, makes exponential, your value because it’s layered so deeply into who you really are in all of those different areas.

Pete Mockaitis
What I think is intriguing here is that, I mean, you can be in roles that have zero out of three, or one out of three, two out of three, or three out of three. They kind of go all the way up and down. And so, I’d imagine that the flavor of discontentment you’re experiencing, if you will, would be kind of distinct in terms of, like, “I’m in over my head and have no idea how to do the things that they’re asking me to do,” would be we don’t have that nurture job fit in play.

Tracy Timm
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “You know, hey, man, I dig the way we work it but, I mean, who cares?” So, in terms of like, “I don’t think that the world really needs us to exist in it, and it wouldn’t be any worse off if it didn’t, but, you know, I like my coworkers and I could do the job, I can fly all over those spreadsheets like nobody’s business.”

Tracy Timm
And you know how insidious that is, right? It’s how people get stuck in these jobs that really aren’t serving them or allowing them to serve, it’s that there’s just enough. There’s just enough good about it, or, “I’m just good enough,” or, “I just got another promotion,” or, “I just got another raise, which is telling me that I’m good at this thing, and telling me that the world needs it,” but at the end of the day, you’re like, “Really? Is this what I do, the widgets? Is that what I’m going to be all about?” And that’s what keeps people up at night, but it’s really hard to break away from that without clear evidence that that’s what you’re supposed to do. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And could you maybe give us an example of, “Hey, here’s a person, maybe it’s a client, and how, hey, here are some things about their now, about their nature, about their nurture, that landed perfectly in a role, and it’s just as resonant and harmoniously beautiful”?

Tracy Timm
Yes. Okay. So, I’ll give you the first one that came to mind because I ended up hiring her. This is how perfect this was, and it just goes to show you that you may not think that your dream job exists, but I guarantee you, if you’re specific enough and you’re talking to the right people, it does. Just because you don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it’s not out there. It’s one of those cases if you don’t know until you know, or you can’t know what you don’t know, right?

So, about a year ago, I had a woman come through our program who told me, it’s one of my favorite stories to tell because we saved her so much money, she was like, “Okay, Tracy, I’m 99% sure I have this 10-year plan where I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to finish my bachelor’s degree,” because she had a degree in Fine Arts, she didn’t have a proper sort of bachelor’s, “And then I’m going to go work in a school environment for a few years so I can get some experience under my belt. And then I’m going to go get my guidance counselling degree, so that eventually, 10 years from now,” after what they had decided as a family and they’ve calculated was $70,000 of college tuition and 10 years of work and/or college experience, she could finally be, ta-dah, a high school guidance counselor.

She’s 99% sure and I was like, “What’s the 1%?” She’s like, “I don’t know if I’m going to like it perfectly. Like, I know that I have a heart to serve people in transition, in transformation, and the underserved, and I think it’s this cohort of people, but I’m not 100% sure.” So, the more I pushed her, the more it’s like, “I’m like 50% sure this is right, not 99% sure.” I think she just convinced herself. So, I said, “Listen, make one percentage point of an investment with me to see if this is 100% what you want to pursue. And then if you are going to eliminate your husband’s 401K and go back to school, and yadda, yadda, yadda, and spend the next 10 years, you know that it’s right for you, you know that you’re not sort of putting good money after bad.”

So, she goes through the program. Within three weeks, so we’d only gotten through now and nature basically, we realized that her nature, she has an extremely low amount of formality naturally, like she’s really great at dealing with ambiguity, which is great, but if there’s a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of red tape, a lot of unnecessary structure in the way of how things get done, she gets really frustrated, really overwhelmed, and it doesn’t really work well for her, which may sound, on the face of it, like, “Oh, this person is unemployable,” if you’re out there thinking, “You can’t do my job like that.”

That may be true but there are definitely environments where that type of personality is really useful when you’re having to work with somebody through an ambiguous situation where you’re going to have to show confidence when they don’t see the end goal or results, and you have to handhold them through that process. It’s a really valuable thing to have if you’re working in an environment of uncertainty. That’s not a valuable thing to have if you work in a high school.

So, within three weeks, we knew exactly that this was a horrible decision that she and her family had made, so we saved them $70,000. She unenrolled, from school, because she had already started like potentially taking classes. And by the end of what was then an eight-week program, which is now a 30-day program, we realized that actually what she wanted to be was a career coach, which is kind of funny. The answer is not necessarily in the title. It just so happened that when we combined her now and her nature and her nurture, her niche was all about serving people through ambiguity, who are going through some type of transition or transformation, with deep emotionality and empathy.

And what was great is that I hired her almost on the spot. It was really funny. We’re in the middle of a workshop, and I was like, “Oh, I think I have an idea. We should talk about it later because there are other people around.” And she was my very first coach that I ever hired and trained to facilitate our programs. And the reason that I felt so confident hiring her without her ever having coached, ever, she doesn’t have a certification, she doesn’t have any of it, she consistently gets tens our tens from our clients because she’s naturally empathetic, so that goes under the nature column, and communicative, and thoughtful, and emotional.

She deals really well in ambiguity, so when our clients are like, “I don’t know if this is going to work,” she’s like, “Borrow my confidence. You got this,” and handholds them through the process. She has a theater arts background so she can actually mirror emotionality, and she knows how to show up for people in a way where they feel like they’re the only person in the room, and it’s not fake. It’s her training. She’s learned how to do that. And then her value set is all around serving people and allowing them to reach their fullest potential.

And so, there were all these really cool puzzle pieces that I would say the average maybe leader or manager wouldn’t necessarily put together, but because we put her niche together, together, I was able to see how these seemingly disparate qualities, from now to nature to nurture, actually complemented one another in such a way that it set her up to be successful in that role without her actually ever having physically done that role before. So, all I needed to do was teach her the program, and that was the last puzzle piece we needed from a nurture perspective. But her facilitating the program came easily because of the theater arts background, because she had actually led and managed people previously, again, all in different scenarios, but it was 100% transferable to working for me.

She tells me at least once a week, “I’m doing like my soul’s work. This is my dream job.” And it’s just so cool that I get to see that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’ve zeroed in. So, that’s the discover phase there that we’ve done, those three Ns?

Tracy Timm
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we define the genius zone?

Tracy Timm
There are a couple ways to go about this. It’s kind of like personality and background and core values math in a sense.

When you go into define, the goal is to figure out how all those things come together and complement one another. So, one of the ways I like to do this is think about like a triple Venn diagram in your mind’s eye, so you’ve got now at the top, nature on the bottom left, and nurture on the bottom right. And what we’re looking for is the nexus in the middle. Where do those three things overlap? I find that the easiest way to do that is to just pick a value, so like pick one datapoint in your now piece, and ask yourself, “Where does this value show up for me in my nature? Is it a part of my personality? Is it a part of my natural behavior set? Is it a part of my gifting? Is it a part of my talents?”

And then ask yourself, “Now, what have I added from nurture to make myself even more dangerous in that area?” So, if I have a personal core value of caring for people, caring for others is like one of my top five core values, and then in my nature, I’m naturally an empathetic person who’s thoughtful, who’s socially-oriented, who’s outgoing, who’s really good at persuading, or whatever. And then, also, in my nurture, I have been in Toastmasters and practiced speaking and the power of persuasion. And in my nurture, I have gone through a transition and a transformation myself. And, let’s say, maybe that transition is I’m recovering from an addiction of some sort. And I can talk from my own experience, and I can be really incredibly powerful and articulate in helping people through that process themselves.

Well, hot damn, now we’re cooking with grease because we naturally care about it, it comes more easily than it does for most people, and you’ve put in some time to really gain skills and knowledge and expertise in that area. And then the goal is just to do that over and over and over again for each core value. And if you’ve got, let’s say, seven to 10 core values, which is what most of us have at any given time, then you’ve got seven to 10 core components of your ideal profession. And so, we just need to weave that into a narrative, it gets really powerful. That’s where you can start to really powerfully articulate your value and define your niche in the world.

Sans job title. I was just on a panel earlier today, and this woman was like, “Listen, the answer is not a job title.” Just like the answer to ‘who your life partner is’ is not their name. They have a name, your dream job has a title, but the reason that they’re your dream person is all the qualities that make up that job. And I think we need to reframe looking for careers like that. If we can describe the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our dream job, that’s so much more powerful than account manager or sales representatives. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, it’s like, “I want to be a business analyst.” Like, maybe you do. Because even the title, I think that’s a great distinction because that title can mean wildly different things to different organizations.

Tracy Timm
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And, like, one organization’s business analyst is your nirvana, and the other organization’s business analyst is your hell, even though you might still be fiddling with Excel in both of them.

Tracy Timm
You’re absolutely right, Pete. I think you’re spot on. That’s the difference, and that puts you back in the driver’s seat, because if you can articulate your value that way, then you’re never beholden to someone else defining you, or someone else saying, “Oh, this is what you’re talking about.” Well, no, because you know, “Actually, it’s not this. It’s that.” And you know why and you’ve done the hard work to back up that answer.

We just graduated a girl a month ago who, two weeks, after she graduated, had competing offers for a job that she had been reticent to apply for because she didn’t think she had the experience or the accreditation to actually be chosen. Not only did she, she just needed to build the confidence that she did via the experience she already had, and she had competing offers within two weeks of graduating. And now she said she’s making $14,000 more a year, she’s working at a dream company, she’s able to leverage those offers against one another for better benefits and more flexibility, and their family is on like a whole new trajectory all because of confidence.

It’s just crazy to me. It’s not easy. It’s hard work. But I think it’s simple. I think the math is simple when you break it down.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve called it math, and I was intrigued when you zeroed in precisely. It’s like, “Well, we have seven to 10 core values at any given time.” It’s like, “That’s okay. Let’s dig into that,” because there’s a number of ways we could define that. You tell me, what do you mean by a core value and how do we figure out those seven to 10?

Tracy Timm
Yeah, okay. So, I have sort of my favorite process for figuring out my core values every year, and this is how we teach it in our 30-day breakthrough program. So, what I like to do is I call it the 10, 20, 30 core values brain storm. So, for 10 minutes, what you want to do is just think of all the things in your life that really move the needle for you. And some good questions to stir the brainstorming process for that are, “Where do I find joy? What lights me up? What makes me feel good? What gets me excited? What do I need to live a good life? Who do I need to be to be a good person in my own eyes?” It’s all about your core values, not anybody else’s. And if you’re going to take the time to do this, please rid yourself of the expectations of other people, at least for these 10 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to say, to that point, so feel good, hey, I love positivity, but I think we might also say feel bad, like, “Hey, where do you feel guilty because you know you have failed to live up to something that matters to you?” With that asterisk that matters to you, as opposed to, “Oh, I feel bad because I didn’t call my mom enough,” and I kind of do that, but it’s not because of her expectations, because I really respect and appreciate all she’s done for me, and I love her, and I want to be the person who is a great friend and son, and grateful and giving to her. Hi, mom. She listens.

Tracy Timm
Oh, hi, mom.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, I guess it’s not so much because of my mom is disappointed or upset with me, but it’s because it’s, no, that’s who I want to be, and I’m often not being that.

Tracy Timm
Yup, I think that’s really powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I feel some guilt associated with that.

Tracy Timm
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we dig in a happy place, and then also, in the guilty place, so long as it’s purely your guilt and not inflicted from another party.

Tracy Timm
Yeah. Well, you can go to another level which is what pisses you off.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, yeah.

Tracy Timm
Like, what’s the thing where you’re like, “Why don’t more people signal when they’re turning right? What does that mean to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
And that gives you so much insight too in terms of, boy, like if it’s a movie or a book or just something you heard someone do, or a news article, it’s like, “This is filling me with such joy and delight. Why?” or, “This is making me super angry. Why?” And that can point you to a value. But continue. So, we have 10, 20, 30. So, we’re starting with some questions for 10 minutes. We ponder.

Tracy Timm
Correct. And just get it all out and don’t judge it. So, it doesn’t need to be one-word values, and they don’t need to be like life-affirming. The last time I did it, one of the first two things that I wrote were warm kitten cuddles because I have two cats that I absolutely adore. And then the second one that I wrote was a bar where the bartenders know my name. Like, I like the idea of having a home bar, of having like people know you, of being part of a neighborhood. And so, those are what I wrote. I didn’t over-analyze them. I didn’t ask, like, “What’s the deeper value here?” I just wrote the thing, the thing that brings me joy, or the thing that makes me feel good, right? So, that’s the first 10 minutes. Don’t judge it. It’s brain dump. Get it all out.

The second part, for 20 minutes, is this is when you go and actually find a list of core values, and you either print them out on a piece of paper, or you look at them on a spreadsheet, and you’re circling every single one that resonates with you. All of them. And this is your opportunity to fill in the gaps. So often, the first 10 minutes, maybe you forgot something, or you had a mental block on some area of your life that actually really is important. This is where we’re actually going to find inspiration from the words themselves as opposed to try to pull the inspiration out of ourselves, if that makes sense. So, 10 minutes of brain dump, 20 minutes of reading words and circling them.

Pete Mockaitis
And these are the words that you dumped.

Tracy Timm
No, this is a whole additional set of words, so it’ll probably be complementary. So, the things that came naturally to you that you just dumped out of your brain might not be in these perfect value words.

Pete Mockaitis
And where do I find this value word list?

Tracy Timm
I use CoreValuesList.com. yeah, it’s not my own. It’s just 500 words.

Pete Mockaitis
CoreValuesList.com. Thank you.

Tracy Timm
You know what, it’s really funny. Enough people have asked me that that I should make my own page TracyTimm.com/CoreValues. But, heaven, I’m so lazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you might be able to put some flavor on it. Like, if they’ve got 500 pieces of raw material, you can do some categorizing and, you know, I don’t know.

Tracy Timm
I like that. I like it a lot. Well, so, now you jumped the gun on me because step number three is categorizing. At this point, you’re probably going to have 50, 100, 150 words or phrases, either written down, I like to do mine in a spreadsheet because then I can just move them easily. But the goal now is to look at your words and start grouping them in groups that are similar. So, if you looked through all your words, and you’re like, “Okay. Well, I have a lot that are on sort of health and wellness. It’s all different words, like, vitality and strength and everything else having to do with health and wellbeing, and it sort of falls into that category, and that’s what it is. That’s the value. That’s the underlying value of these words or phrases.”

The 30 minutes that you’re spending is getting your massive chunk of words down to 10 or less groups,
10 or less. Because if you have more than 10, it’s way too many cooks in the kitchen. If you have less than seven, I would argue that you’re not specific enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tracy Timm
Yeah. And that’s how you figure out your core values. And what I like to do is, at the end of the hour, 10, 20, 30, at the end of the hour, look at your groups and give them names that resonate with you. If that’s just words then it’s just words for you. If it’s phrases, then give them like a really strong powerful phrase. I’ve had clients do mythical characters or historical figures, so they picked like George Washington was their whole category is, let’s say, honesty or whatever, and that’s really what resonates for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Self-sacrifice. George Washington. What a guy.

Tracy Timm
Right. Hardworking and whatever, yeah. But how powerful is George Washington as a value for that person because of the image that it conjures, and how much more powerful is it then hardworking or honest or self-sacrifice?

Pete Mockaitis
Like, generous. You’re right, it stirs something in you because you’re like, “Man, when I was listening to 1776, like, this dude was wow, you know.”

Tracy Timm
Yeah. And core values are only as powerful as you make them, right? So, it’s these platitudes that you put on the wall and you don’t ever use, and the words don’t even resonate with you. Why are you laughing so hard?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now you got me thinking. It’s fun. You’re right. Like, you get to be you and expressive, and so now I’m thinking of myself. Like, as a child, one of my…well, I guess I still play it today a couple times a year. There’s this strategy game called Master of Orion, super dorky, on a computer.

Tracy Timm
All right.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it launched me into strategy consulting and strategic thinking stuff.

Tracy Timm
I love this, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if I were to sort of play this game, but that’s also important to me, it’s like using resources well, like, being a good steward of them. I also just enjoy it, like strategically optimizing, like, “Hmm.”

Tracy Timm
Oh, totally. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you could put that as one of my values is that I am the Master of Orion.

Tracy Timm
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is so dorky, which is why I’m laughing. It’s so dorky but, to me, it is very meaningful.

Tracy Timm
It’s so accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, I know what that means and I want to be that.

Tracy Timm
And I want to be that. Exactly. I got to tell you. The best ones are the people who are creative that’s because I’m a creative person. I find the ones that resonates really powerfully for people, they actually go that extra mile, and it’s this uber specific thing that only they understand but it fully encompasses the value, if that makes sense.

One of my absolute favorites was this girl, she was one of our workshop participants a while back, and she was like, “One of my core values is ‘Welcome to my party.’” And she said it just like that, “Welcome to my party,” and I was like, “I’m sorry. What?” And she’s like, “It’s this one specific memory I have where I hosted this incredible party, and so many people came and I was so engaged as the host that I lost my voice. And so, by the end of the night, I was like, ‘Welcome to my party.’” And she said people made fun of her forever, but what it encapsulated for her was this sense of like providing a space for people to have a great time, and how much energy she got from that, and how much joy she got from that, and she loved being in charge. So, it’s actually a more complex value but it was so perfect for her that it’s Master of Orion for you. It’s fabulous. I love that. So, I think that’s how you do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if I may, can I put you on the spot, drop it on us, your seven to 10 core values in all of their unique flavors?

Tracy Timm
You want to know them?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Tracy Timm
All right. You know what, you’re so lucky, Pete, I actually have these up on a spreadsheet all the time because I like to refer back to them whenever I’m making decisions. This is the cheat code for life. If you have your core values figured out ahead of time, and someone says, “Hey, do you want so-and-so to potentially be your business partner and make an investment and take 50% of your business?” or somebody is like, “Hey, would you consider even coming to this event that I have to go to later tonight or do you need to go take care of your mom?” or, “Hey, do you want to spend your money on this vacation or do you want to spend your money over here?”

If you already have your values figured out ahead of time, it is the equivalent of a life-easy button because you can look at your core values, and you can go, “Ugh, that doesn’t even fit number one. Out.” You don’t have to lose sleep. You don’t have to be overly-emotional about it. It’s amazing. So, literally, I pull these out all the time. Like, I was entertaining a potential business partner earlier this year, and my gut was telling me, like, “Uh-oh, I don’t know. Don’t you want to be Sara Blakely and own 100% of SPANX? And do you really want to give this away?” And it was all ego-driven, right? It was all sort of in-the-moment, emotional, reaction and response.

And then when I actually wrote, I literally did this, Pete, I wrote my core values in the middle of a piece of paper, and then on the left, I put a pro column, and then on the right, I put a con column, and then anything that this…if saying yes to this partnership produced a pro that had to do with core value number one, I had to write it on the left, but if it produced a con, I’d write it on the right. And by the time I was done, I had five to seven pros for every con on the other side, and I was like, “Oh, the better version of me who deeply thought about what mattered ahead of time is telling this current ego-driven emotional version of me, ‘Hey, dummy, you already did the hard work. Why are you thinking about this so hard? It makes sense. Let’s move forward.’” And it made me feel so much better about my decision.

Okay. So, my top 10 core values. Number one is “deeply in tune” which is feeling divine, grateful, faithful, and hopeful, so it’s kind of how I live my faith. I’m Catholic so I’m pretty into that. But even beyond that, it’s like, “Am I listening? Am I grateful? Am I thoughtful about my career decisions? Am I hopeful about the future? Do I feel aligned?” Number two is “it takes a village.” This is a new one this year because Tracy Timm was rowing the business canoe alone for about five years, and my arms got real tired, so “it takes a village” is feeling supported, loved, comforted, and connected. If I’m living those two values, then I also get to live my third value, they’re all in a row, which I highly advise people do, my third value is “in my element” which is feeling confident, capable, masterful, and impactful. So, if I’m deeply in tune, and I have the right people on my team, I get to be in my element more often than not.

Which then, if I’m in my element, I get to be number four, which is “fully alive,” so that’s feeling excited, eager, adventurous, and awake. Being awake is such an important word to me because I feel like I lived a good portion of my life as a zombie, and I don’t want that for myself or anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t help but tie together Catholic and fully alive with Saint Irenaeus. Oh, my God, was this man fully alive. That’s one of my faves.

Tracy Timm
Thank you for that. Oh, my gosh. I feel so affirmed. Yes, love it. So, if I’m fully alive then I get to be number five which is “in the moment.” And, for me, in the moment means engrossed, and aware, and connected, and kind of full of wonder. Like, I tend to be the kind of anxious fearful person more than I am the full of awe and wonder person, but I really aspire to that value so that’s why that’s my fifth value.

Number six was a personal sort of plea for myself at the beginning of the year. Number six is “less is more,” and that was feeling uncluttered and organized, synergistic and prosperous. So, how could I eliminate to create more? And I told myself, by the end of the year, that meant that I was going to commit to like Marie Kondo-ing/home-editing my world, and I’ve made like baby steps in that direction but it’s only September, so we’re going to get there.

Seven is “serenity pool.” Have you ever floated in one of those float chambers?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve wanted to but I haven’t done it yet.

Tracy Timm
It’s worth it. I wouldn’t do it for longer than 45 minutes. I got a little antsy and bored by the end of it, but the first 30 is just like, “This is heaven.” So, serenity pool for me is feeling light, and peaceful, and balanced, and harmonious, and putting enough in my life to create that on purpose. Number eight is “vitality or bust,” which speaks a lot to me because I need to give myself good strong boundaries. So, vitality or bust is way better than feeling fit, or whatever. It’s like, “No, you’re going to do this.” And so, that’s feeling strong, fit, energy-rich, and energy-giving.

And then the last two are “keep going,” which is something I have to tell myself basically every day, which is feeling determined, dedicated, resilient, and resourceful. And then the last one is called “living inside out,” which, to me, means being authentic, being heard, being understood, and being genuine in that exchange with people. So, wow, I’ve just laid it all out there. It is bare.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And it shows, I mean, the vulnerability and the realness, and like straight up, that’s what really matters to you. There it is.

Tracy Timm
It is, and I put in the work to figure that out. And it took about an hour or two hours to do. I do it once a year in January, my whole team does it in January. We get together and we sort of go over and what’s everyone’s values for the year. It’s part of our annual meeting so that I know what my people care about, and they know what I care about. And so, if we’re showing up to work, we’re there to do our jobs but it also serves our own values.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I love it. We’ve talked about values a few times on the show but I don’t know if we ever quite got this raw and precise.

Tracy Timm
Nice. I’m glad.

Pete Mockaitis
So, kudos and thank you. Glad we went there.

Tracy Timm
Thanks for asking the question. That’s all you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for getting there. All right. Well, let’s see, wow so much good stuff. I asked, hey, drive, I mean, there’s plenty of tips on that but go ahead and lay it on us, one or two tips, tactics, that just rock when it comes when you’re actually the job hunting?

Tracy Timm
I have two for you. Once you know your niche, well, now you just got to put your vision into action. And there are two things that I think we don’t do enough of that everyone should be doing if you’re in the process of discovering your ideal career or making any type of professional transition or transformation whatsoever.

Number one is, our maxim in the business is 10 minutes in front of a human being is worth 10 hours of online research. So, if you aren’t actively speaking to other human beings about your niche, about what you’re pursuing, about what it looks like, the who, what, when, where, why, describing it to them, talking to them about your transition, anything, if you are going back to the fear of living behind the computer screen, which I know it’s easy for us to do, especially us millennials, shame on us, right, we forgot how to talk to humans, you are wasting time. Categorically wasting time. Ten minutes in front of a human being is so much more of a dynamic engagement and interaction that could not be replaced with 10 hours of Googling and job boards and LinkedIn updates and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And when you spend that time, you suddenly have so much richer stuff to Google, it’s like, “I’ve never heard of that company. It sounds amazing.

Tracy Timm
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
And then that time you spend, it just has a whole different energy to it, like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to learn about this thing. It sounds amazing,” as opposed to, “So, what are some business analyst opportunities in the Chicago area?”

Tracy Timm
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe that is the appropriate thing to look for but it’d be great if you had that gusto and that certainty from having tapped into someone else’s brilliance.

Tracy Timm
Well, yeah, because, remember, this is How to be Awesome at Your Job, not How to be Mediocre at Life. So, if you want to be awesome, talk to other people who can show you, “Okay, yeah, you’re almost there. But if you want all the things you want in a job, you should be looking here. This is what you’re really describing. And it lives here and it exists here, and it’s called this,” which is not something that Google is ever going to autocorrect you for, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Tracy Timm
So, that’s number one, we call that network. That’s step one in sort of this drive part of the process, and it’s everybody’s least favorite part, like nobody wants to “network” because they think it’s awkward and they’re going to talk to people they don’t know, and 99 times out of 100, you have a preexisting amazing network that you’re just not tapping. They want to help but they don’t know how to help you, they don’t know what you want, and all they need you to do is go to them and tell them what you want. It’s brilliant. But you have to ask.

And so then, the second piece of advice in drive I call “navigate,” which is really just a fancy way to say test drive your options, like have an informational interview, go shadow someone, do not be the person that accepts a job, or applies for a job without knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Like, investigate what you’re pursuing. Inspect what you expect. And the easiest way to do that is to test drive your assumptions.

And the only thing that keeps us from doing that is we’re afraid to be wrong 100% of the time. It’s like, “Oh, well. But if I just accept this then my job search is done, and I can wash my hands of this and I’ll be happy. I’m sure of it.” And every time I’ve done that, I’ve been ignoring a blaring siren red flag going, “This thing is not in alignment with your core values,” or, “This thing is going to make you turn your nature inside out,” or, “This thing is going to make you feel like you’re in over your head all the time. And even though you’re a fast learner, it’s not going to be fun for you.”

So, test drive your options and assumptions. And I listened to another woman today talk about this, and she was like, “Be curious. Have fun with it. It’s not a right or wrong, live or die, type of thing. It’s be curious. Ask the follow-up question. Follow somebody around. Ask about their day-to-day.” And the things that you learn from that navigation component of the job search they will either affirm to you that this is going to be life-giving and wonderful, or they will allow you to dodge the unnecessary bullet more often than not.

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

Tracy Timm
My call to action is whenever I’m uncertain about things, especially life and career things, I like to go back to logic and reason and what I know to be true. Like, what ultimate truth is there? And my favorite anecdote about this that really spurs me to action anytime I’m afraid to try something, or anytime I’m afraid to really go for something, is that I met this guy on Semester at Sea, who’s a professor of psychology, and he taught me. I was just in the pits of despair.

And I was so deeply unhappy with my career at that point, and I asked him, like, “Listen, is this just how it has to be? Do I just have to suck it up? Is this what work is? It pays well, so I guess I get to have a lifestyle that’s nice, that’s fun. But 12 hours a day, five days a week, I’m pretty unhappy. Is that just how it has to be? Or, should I go for it? Should I actually try to find…?” because even then I didn’t know what it was, but I was like, “Should I go try to figure it out?” And he was like, “Tracy, it is always worth it to take your meaningful shot for the stars because the way that our brain processes regrets is that you will regret infinitely more something that you didn’t do than something that you did and failed at.”

Those are the only things you can regret, one is called regrets, or sins of omission, that’s the thing you didn’t do, and the other one is a sense of commission, that’s the things you did wrong. And the reason that you regret things you didn’t do infinitely more is because there’s no answer, and your brain is looking for the end of the story. It’s looking for what happened as a result of that action. But because you didn’t do anything, there is no result. There are, in fact, though, an infinite number of potential results, the what-ifs, and the would’ve-beens, and things like that, that literally haunt us, and have the opportunity to haunt us our whole lives not because we regret it inherently more but because our brain is looking for that solution.

So, if you’re out there on the fence, and you’re like, “How do I be awesome?” live a regret-free life, and go for the things you want. And if nothing else convinces you to do it, let the logic of the fact that you’re never going to regret failing at something more than you’re going to regret wondering what would’ve happened. That’s one my favorite pieces of advice.

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

Tracy Timm
The first is the one that I discovered most recently which is Einstein, which is, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life feeling stupid.” That was my very first job out of college. I was a really hardworking fish, climbing a really big tree, and feeling like, “Why isn’t this working?” And I think a lot of people feel that way. And if that’s you, get yourself out of that. The other is, “Don’t ask what the world needs? Ask yourself what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is people who’ve come back to life,” and that’s Howard Thurman. And that’s really what is one of the cornerstones of our business core values, it’s like, “Let’s bring people back to life.”

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Tracy Timm
I think my favorite psychological phenomenon that’s been studied a lot is cognitive dissonance. So, it’s the idea that your body and your mind cannot exist for very long at odds with one another, which means if you believe something but you behave in a different way, then something has to give. Either you have to change your behavior or you have to change your beliefs.

And I’m of the belief that a lot of people are suffering for longer than they have to, because instead of changing their behavior, whether it’s in their life or their career or anywhere else in their life really, they haven’t changed their behavior, they’ve convinced themselves of a different set of beliefs, and so they’re suffering longer because, really, deep down, they don’t believe that. They’ve only made it logical or reasonable to explain away their behavior. So, cognitive dissonance, I think, is huge, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m about to ask you for a favorite book. I’m currently reading Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) about cognitive dissonance, which is amazing. I recommend it. What’s a favorite book that you’d recommend?

Tracy Timm
Well, Unstoppable, the career book for you, and please go check that out UnstoppableCareerBook.com. I’d appreciate it. But if you’re not going to read my book, I would highly recommend that you read, maybe in addition, this book, it’s a total throwaway coffee table book but it was a game changer for me, it’s called If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules, and it’s by Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott.

And she wrote it originally as a list of like eight rules for living that was published in the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul, and then Jack Canfield tracked her down and said, “I know you wrote this. Can I attribute this to you?” because in the original printing, it was anonymous. And because of that conversation, she was inspired to write the book where she explains each of the rules in detail. So, each of the rules for living comes with like four or five different virtues that when you sort of master those virtues, you’ve mastered that rule for living. It’s powerful. It’s really powerful.

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

Tracy Timm
TracyTimm.com. In fact, I’m going to go ahead, for your audience, create a little landing page, TracyTimm.com/awesome is where you can go, and you can get all kinds of freebies there specifically if this is resonating with you. You can book time with somebody on our team to just talk about what’s not working in your career, and we can help you get on the right path, and that’s absolutely free. So, TracyTimm.com/awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tracy, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your unstoppable adventures.

Tracy Timm
Thank you so much, Pete. I just appreciate what you’re doing for the world, and I know everybody out there, I don’t know how they don’t adore you. You’re an absolute treat. So, thank you so much for having me.

540: Making Recruitment Work for You with Atta Tarki

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Atta Tarki says: "Hire well, manage little."

Atta Tarki sheds light on the crucial practices that improve the hiring process on both sides of the recruiting table.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The strongest predictor of job performance
  2. What makes an interview answer excellent vs. terrible
  3. The most important factors that determine career fit

About Atta:

Atta Tarki and is the author of the book Evidence-Based Recruiting (McGraw Hill, February 2019) and the CEO of ECA, a data-driven executive search firm helping private equity firms with their talent needs.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Empower. Save more money, effortlessly. Get $5 free at empower.me/awesome with the promo code AWESOME

Atta Tarki Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Atta, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Atta Tarki
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into a lot of your work, of evidence-based recruiting, and I want to talk about both kind of both sides of the recruiting table, as the candidate and the interviewer. But, first, tell us about painting murals. That sounds like a different part of your brain that you’re exercising in your off time.

Atta Tarki
Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m a father of three and a husband of one, and I feel like it’s fun for me to engage in my local community. So, when I have some spare time, I go and help out with painting murals.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, now, any particular murals that you’re especially proud of or fond of?

Atta Tarki
Well, I have to say there is one on Main Street in Santa Monica that has a particular meaning to me, and it was my younger brother who passed away when he was 16, sadly. And we did a mural to honor him on a location called the Bubble Beach Laundry on Main Street in Santa Monica, and it’s a silhouette of my younger brother flexing his muscles on the beach.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s a famous beach, right, for like bodybuilders and stuff, right?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. And he’s smiling there and I’ve seen countless people standing in front of him and also flexing their muscles and smiling and taking pictures, and posting it everywhere, so I feel it’s his way of passing on that smile to others. So, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy every time I think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really beautiful in terms of leaving a ripple that’s impacting a lot of folks and in a fun way. So, I imagine there’ll be some listeners who’s like, “You know what, I’ve been there,” or, “I’m about to go back there and make sure we get the photo,” so thank you for sharing that. That’s cool.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’re talking about evidence-based recruiting, and I want to cover it kind of on both sides of the recruiting table. Maybe can you share with us what’s perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about how organizations do hiring, or should do hiring, as you’ve done your research and put this together?

Atta Tarki
Yeah, absolutely. And, Pete, like you, I started my career in management consulting and I started my own recruiting firm about 10 years ago. And the first thing I discovered when I came into consulting is that I wasn’t alone in having discovered that it’s really important to hire great people. Most companies talk about kind of like, “Hiring and retaining great people is our priority,” or, “Our employees are the true force behind our success.”

The second thing that I discovered, and maybe the most surprising piece then, was very few people actually mean those words.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Atta Tarki
These words were said by Frontier Communication and Sears, and based on their Glassdoor reviews left for these two companies, they were rated the two worst companies to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we are naming names. This is going to be a juicy one. Keep going.

Atta Tarki
Yeah. Well, I guess what was surprising for me is that so many people talk a big game about wanting to have the best employees and their people being the true differentiator, but very few companies and hiring managers actually act that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that that rings true and that’s powerful and, yeah, I think it’s easy to say those words and in practice it’s pretty darn hard to systematize the practices and processes and, frankly, sacrifices necessary to make that a reality.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then let’s dig into it then. So, there’s a gap there, and if folks want to be doing the best possible recruiting that they can be doing, what have you discovered are some of the key practices they need to be following?

Atta Tarki
I’ve discovered that a lot of folks follow old-industry norms and practices that they think are just practices that have developed over time, and are tested, and tried and true, but in reality, very few of these practices have actually been tested or are true in terms of producing better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Could you mention a practice that’s not getting it done for folks?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, a lot of hiring managers when they start writing a job description, they start with, “I want X years of experience in doing exactly the same job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Atta Tarki
And there is recent research that shows that experience in a job is one of the very least predictive factors in terms of on-the-job success. It’s not negatively correlated on the job success. It’s positively correlated, but its correlation is much lower than most hiring managers believe it is. And having worked with a number of our clients as well as also looked at our internal data, we can see that most hiring managers over-index on past experience and how predictive it is going to be for on-the-job success.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. I mean, that is certainly a common practice and often, you’re right, the first bullet point you’ll see in a job description or a post for an open role. So, what, do tell, are some of the most predictive indicators?

Atta Tarki
It really comes down to what you’re recruiting for. So, I’ll give you an analogy which is 20 years ago, the old saying in marketing used to be, “Half of my spend is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Atta Tarki
And today it’s almost unimaginable to deploy a large marketing budget without taking an analytical and data-driven approach to it, and recruiting is going down the same path. And when I talk to leading executives at companies like Amazon and Google, they’re telling me, “Atta, recruiting is going down the same path as marketing did 20 years ago.” Depending on what role you’re trying to recruit for and what problem you’re trying to solve for, you have to apply a data-driven approach to see what works and recruit for those skills that are most predictive of on-the-job success. So, unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet that works for all roles, but there are a few general rules. If you like, I can share some of those rules with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d like to hear the generals that are available, and then maybe just an example of, “Hey, for this kind of a role, this is the skill that is the thing.”

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. The first general rule is don’t hire for quantity, hire for quality. It sounds a little bit cliché but I feel like when most hiring managers say this but then go back to saying, like, “Okay. Well, let’s get this hire done so I can focus on putting out a few fires right in front of me.” And maybe this can be best illustrated by the work that I was doing in consulting. So, I had worked in management consulting for six years, and working in consulting in Los Angeles, I worked with a lot of media and entertainment companies.

And a few years into my role, something a little bit remarkable happened. I was going over to the Blockbuster store where I would spend my Sunday afternoons and walked through the aisles to figure out what movie I was going to watch, when I noticed that it’s going out of business. And working in media and entertainment, it was pretty clear to me that one of the factors that led to this Blockbuster store going out of business was this tiny company at the time called Netflix.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Atta Tarki
But that was a little bit confusing for a management consultant, because from a strategies perspective, that shouldn’t happen and able to happen. Netflix was a tiny company.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, market share. Pricing power. Economies of scale.

Atta Tarki
All of those things. And Blockbuster was a $6 billion company and, in theory, they had set giant barriers to entry for all these smaller companies to come in and kind of like destroy their kind of like business model, right? And why was that so? What did this tiny company have that this giant in the industry lack? You could argue that it was a better business model, or it was more innovative techniques, or whatnot, right? But why did they have a better business model? Why do they have these better distribution models, etc.? What did Netflix have that this $6 billion giant lack? And I would argue that you can summarize it in one word, and that is talent.

So, if you want to build a very effective organization, it’s no longer sufficient to set up these barriers to entry and hide behind them, you need to lead the change in your industry. And in order to do so, you need to focus on finding the best talent possible.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that really resonates and one example that’s leaping to mind for me is Gary Keller, with the Keller Williams Realty franchise, his book The ONE Thing he wrote with Jay Papasan whom we had on the show, awesome book. I don’t remember how long he took off from being the CEO, it might’ve been a year, but he said it was so important for him to hire 12 people, or 13, in that ballpark, that he’s like, “All right. Well, this is what I’m going to do for the next year,” and just stop being the CEO, handed over the day-to-day operations to someone else to go hire, like, 13, 14 people. It was all he was doing in a year. Well, the results speak for themselves in terms of just how phenomenally successful that organization has been, and it really underscores that notion of quality versus quantity, and it’s not about checking the box and moving on to your next task.

Atta Tarki
Yeah, and I would say that that is a phenomenal example over someone actually putting it to action. And what’s more effective? Is it more effective to hire an average performer and spend a ton of time trying to mentor down and coach them and through the apprenticeship model, try to get them to be effective? Or is it more effective to obsess about finding the very best talent you can, and then let them run with things, and spending your time upfront and finding them and spending less time than training and coaching them?

And I’d say these few ideas have, kind of like, people have battled with it over the years. And these few ideas have been popularized by two different movies. One of them is Moneyball where Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Ace, one of the poorest team in baseball, obsessed about finding undervalued talent and building his team that way, and two years in a row made it to the finals. And the other movie is The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi took on a subpar performer, and with kind of like magical coaching skill…

Pete Mockaitis
Subpar performer. He’s just a kid.

Atta Tarki
He was a kid who knew nothing about karate, and within a few months turned into a superstar.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Atta Tarki
So, the question is, “Which approach do you think works better? Is it the Moneyball approach or is it The Karate Kid approach?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t see why we have to make it an either/or because, hey, we get the best people and then resource them well, I think, is ideal when possible.

Atta Tarki
Okay. So, let me tease you a little bit here. So, you said, “I don’t know why it’s an either/or.” I’ll tell you why it’s an either/or.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Atta Tarki
You only have 24 hours in a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. In terms of how you allocate your time.

Atta Tarki
Your time. And you could take a year off to go off and find 13 to 14 superstars, or you could say, “You know what, I’ll manage to hire these 13 to 14 superstars, but during that year, I’m also going to spend 60 hours a week in meetings and trying to coach people and mentor people.” You’re not going to achieve the same results if you try to spend those 60 hours a week trying to coach and mentor people and at the same time kind of like half-assing your recruiting efforts. If you want to really achieve exceptional results in recruiting, you have to allocate a proportionate amount of your time and resources to finding the best people from the get-go.

Pete Mockaitis
That fits. So, there’s no shortcuts, you take the time, you take the effort, you’re putting the resources in. And then what are you doing with that time, effort, and resource?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, first thing you’re doing is that you’re defining what good looks like, and what are we recruiting for, what are the skills we want, what are the traits we want. And then you have to create a feedback loop. You have to understand, “Okay, how are we trying to measure these traits?” And then you have to go back a few years later and check, and that’s how you create an evidence-based approach and see if it worked or not. And if you want to have an impact on the effectiveness of your recruiting methods, you have to just start measuring, and you have to start doing that today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, then it sounds like I don’t have any quick secret tips and tricks that I can employ right away, but rather it’s the long game of monitoring, measuring, and tweaking the system.

Atta Tarki
I do have a few secret…

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good.

Atta Tarki
…tricks that I can share with you from personal experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Please.

Atta Tarki
So, first of all, recruit more for skills and fit rather than just recruiting for experience, that’s the first thing I’ve learned. So, check what skills you need and also check for fit. The second trick I can teach you is to let employees interview you as much as you interview them, and be brutally honest with them about who you are and who you’re not, and why some of your happiest employees are happy at their role, but also why you might not be the right fit for some other folks.

A lot of employers are so overly-eager, especially in these times where we have a 50-year low in terms of unemployment rates, to sell the position and sell their firm, that they’re not quite forthcoming about the challenges in the role, and that leads to mis-hires. And people starting in the role who are not happy in the role end up leaving. So, that is the second thing.

The third thing is that I like to hire people who point fingers at themselves versus at others.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like blame.

Atta Tarki
Blame others if things go wrong. They blame it on external factors as opposed to what they could’ve done to make the situation differently. I was recruiting for a CEO role, and I asked the candidate, “Tell me about a time when you failed.” And he said, “Well, I started at this company, it was a family-owned company, and I was recruited by the founder CEO. And after a year, I left the role because I was hired by the father, but then realized that the son was not on board with the initiatives that the father wanted to do. And since the son was not on board, I couldn’t make the change, and I decided to leave.”

Now, you could take that same answer, and someone else could’ve said, “Well, what I did wrong was that I didn’t really invest the time to understand this upfront of who is the real decision-maker.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s perfect.

Atta Tarki
“I didn’t invest the time to build a relationship with the son upfront. Once I discovered that, I could’ve taken these different actions to convince the father, or the son, to do these things.” But, instead, he just blamed it on the fact that the son didn’t want to do it, “And I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is excellent distinction because I think people will ask questions in the course of an interview, and it’s like, “How do I judge if that story is good or not? Like, was it entertained by it? Did it keep my attention? Did he seem likable while telling it?” It was like, “No, here’s something to look at sort of beneath the surface in terms of are we taking responsibility or sort of shifting blame elsewhere?”

And what I think is so powerful about that is, one, it’s just sort of a more pleasant, humble human being to interact and work with, and, two, that’s a learner. That is someone who is actively reflecting on their experiences and thinking about, “How can I get better?” and so they’re kind of naturally growing, and they are some folks who are going to really take some ownership and drive things, and you can feel better about that. So, I love that trick.

Atta Tarki
You’re touching upon a very important point. One of the best ways you can improve your hiring results is to follow more structured approach interviews. Most hiring managers follow unstructured interviews where they come in and they have a few questions in their mind, but they haven’t really written out all the questions, and then they haven’t really thought about what constitutes a good answer versus a bad answer.

And what happens in those scenarios is that you end up liking someone or you end up like connecting with someone on a personal level, and regardless of what they say, you feel like, “Oh, that was a pretty good answer.” And you’re not really checking for the content of the answer, you’re more checking for if you connected with the person or not. And that is not a great way of predicting on-the-job success. A much better way of predicting on-the-job success is where there is a right or wrong answer, and you can grade the answers on a scale of, call it, one to five, one to ten, or whatever scale you want to use.

And then at the end of it, you go back and try to kind of like give them a gut feeling on overall, I think, this is how I would rate the candidate. But having had those objective answers upfront and grading system upfront, keeps your emotions a little bit in check.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’re talking about interview questions, and I would imagine you’ve got some approaches beyond taking a look at resume and a cover letter and conducting an interview to get some predictive insight and how a candidate might perform. Is that true? And what are those other ways?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. I’m a big fan of skills-based assessments, and a lot of the companies that use evidence-based hiring methods also use a skills-based assessment. So, Amazon, Google, and a number of other companies give you an assessment that is similar to a task that you would perform on the job, and ask you to perform that task.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That is exactly what I do and it works wonders. Go figure. “You are good at doing the thing that I need you to do, and I know that not by conjecture based on your experience, but, in fact, from having seen the fruit of your work, and saying, ‘Yes, that is good. I would like more like that, please.’”

Atta Tarki
It does work wonders. And it’s not only important for every senior-level roles, but one of the CEOs we worked with, he had gone through three executive assistants within a year, and he called me up and said, “Atta, I know you only hire senior-level people, but I’m desperate here. I keep hiring these executive assistants and they don’t work out for me. Can you help me hire them?” And I sat down with him, and I was like, “Okay, how do you assess them?” He’s like, “Well, I just have like a half an hour free-flow conversation with them, and then I make them an offer. It’s not that important. It’s not that complicated.”

I was like, “No, let them do something that you would do. Okay, so here’s an assessment you could use for them. Give them this task and say, ‘I’m going to fly to Hong Kong this weekend, I’m going to spend two days there, and then I’m going to fly to South Africa, and then I’m going to come back. You have 10 minutes with me. What are the questions you would ask me?’ And they would write up the questions.” And it was an enormous difference. He almost fell off his chair when he saw the difference of level of questions that he received from some folks.

Some people were like, “Okay, are you flying economy or business class?” He was like, “Of course, I’m flying business class. That’s not even a question. Or first class.” But someone else was like, “Okay, when was the last time you updated your passport? Have you checked how much time you have left on the passport? What would you like to do when you’re in Hong Kong? Do I need to send over your golf clubs? Do you need transportation to come pick you up? What are the hotel preferences you have?” and so forth.

And he was like just seeing that difference between the level of their answers, completely changed his mind about which of the candidates that he should hire.

Pete Mockaitis
That is perfect. Thank you. Well, let’s kind of switch the channel a little bit and sort of step into the candidate’s role. So, if we want to use some evidence-based recruiting to evaluate which workplaces are kind of great fits for us versus not so great fits, what do you recommend we do?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. I’d say start again with you asking yourself the right questions. So, if you’re a candidate, try to understand, “What makes me happy?” And I would say that most candidates, the mistake they do is that they start with, “What is the job I want to do? What do I want to become when I become an adult or when I grow old?” “I want to become a fireman.” “I want to be a police officer.” “I want to do this job.”

But in my experience, how you do the job is almost as important for your happiness as what you do as a profession. And what I mean by that is like, “Okay, where is the location of the job? What are the work hours? How are you interacting with your colleagues?” Ask yourself, “What are the jobs that I’ve been happy in before? How did I interact with my supervisors? Was there someone who stepped kind of like by my desk five times a day and made him or herself available to me, or kind of like tap me on the shoulders and said, ‘How are things going?’ or is this someone who kind of like left me alone and checked in with me once a month? Is this a very high-performing environment where I feel like I got pushed to kind of like do my very best or was it a little bit more low-key environment?” etc.

And asking yourself, “Who are the supervisors that I had a great relationship with versus not? And what are the day-to-day activities of those roles that actually made me happy?” helps you to kind of like figure out what questions you can ask about the role to see if you’re going to be happy in those roles or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think that’s excellent. And so, you’ve sort of laid out a few, I guess you might call them continua in terms of low-key versus intense high performance, checking in frequently versus infrequently. Could you maybe rattle off a few more that we might think about where we fall to make sure we don’t overlook something?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, most people say when I ask them, “What made you happy in your last job or what you did?” They go to kind of like the mission of the organization, they’re like, “Okay, I really like the fact that this organization worked with topic X.” I was like, “Okay, but what made you happy about working with that supervisor? What in their style made them happy?” And they’re like, “Okay. Well, this person was fun.”

The question I would ask yourself as a candidate is, “How did that demonstrate itself in the day-to-day activities or my interactions with this person?” I’d say most people will not describe themselves as really boring people or mean people, but how you define fun or nice might be different than someone else. And most companies would say, “Oh, we have a very fun company culture.” “Great. How does that demonstrate itself? What is something fun you guys did in the last month?” And you might find out that what they think is fun is to go out and drink at 2:00 a.m. and you might not like that at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I always love it when…I never actually said this in college but I was so tempted when I heard all of these companies recruiting, and I said, “Oh, so tell me a little bit about your culture,” and they say, “Oh, it’s work hard, play hard.” And I was like, “What does that even mean? What does that even mean?” And so, I was always tempted to be like, “Oh, so play hard like we’re having a couple drinks after work, or play hard like we’re doing cocaine.”

Atta Tarki
Like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. Like, “They play hard. Is that what you mean? I don’t think it is.” But these terms are quite ambiguous and that it’s well worth it kind of digging in another layer to get after, “What do we mean by that?”

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. “What do you mean by that? How did that manifest itself in the job and the culture of the company? What are some of the activities that you could say are examples of that trait in the culture? What are some of the activities of the people that you enjoyed working with?” Kind of like try to think about that and try to distinguish between it.

Another jargon that I hear from candidates as I ask them, “Okay, who are some bosses you enjoyed working with? Who are some of the bosses you didn’t enjoy working with?” They say like, “Well, I don’t like it when my boss micromanages me.” And I’d say, “Ninety percent of candidates tell me that. Like, what do you mean by that? Because I know that some folks, they do enjoy it when their boss kind of like provides them supervision and checks in with them frequently, other people don’t. And would you say that everyone who checks in with their direct reports are micromanagers or are they just being helpful?”

So, understand the right cadence. How often? What types of task that they would provide you feedback on? How often you got opportunities to kind of like take a first stab at things versus not? And how do you define micromanage-y so that you can find the right fit for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s great stuff there in terms of getting really clear on, “What do you want? And what do you mean by that?” in terms of what do you want.

Atta Tarki
Yeah. And one other thing is I would ask folks in the role, or currently performing that role, is, “How do you split your time between various activities?” So, if you come in to work at my company, an excellent question to one of our project managers is like, “Okay, how much of your time do you spend speaking with candidates versus talking to clients versus thinking about what search strategies that are effective versus other activities, right?”

And that kind of like gives you a sense. If you’re someone who doesn’t get a lot of energy from talking to people, but our project managers say, “Well, I probably spend about a good four hours a day talking to candidates,” you’re like, “Oh, wow, that sounds draining. That’s like starting a search strategy sounds really fun but you’re only spending an hour a day doing that, but I have to spend four hours a day talking to candidates, and that’s going to drain me.” It’s not about kind of like a checklist of tasks and traits but also how much of your time is going to those different types of tasks and traits that kind of give you energy versus kind of drain you for energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think that’s excellent. And so, let’s say, all right, so we got a really clear picture on what we want and we are looking at an opportunity that sure seems to be that. What are some of your top tips for just crushing it and looking fantastic during the course of the recruiting process from networking conversations to resumes to the interview to work samples? Like, how do you dazzle?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Try to anticipate what are the questions that are going to come up, or work sample tasks, or skills-based assessments, etc. that are going to come up in the interview. If it truly is a role that you definitely want, do your research, go online, there are all these resources like Glassdoor.com, etc. See if you know anyone who used to work there or works there now, and ask them, like, “Okay, what could I anticipate?”

I’d say 80% of the questions you can anticipate regardless if you know someone there or not. And don’t just kind of think about them but write it out, and then role-play ideally with someone else. You’d be surprised how much more refined you’re going to be if you actually kind of sound it out once or twice versus you just try to wing it. I’d say the biggest mistake we see from people who want their dream job is that they think they can wing it, and then they come in and they’re just babbling on,

Atta Tarki
And then they blow their opportunity. But, also, then research not just the company but also the role and the people you’re talking to, and understand a little about them, and try to connect with them on that personal level when you’re going in there, and say, like, “Okay. Well, Pete, I noticed that you used to work at Bain & Company. How do you feel like that prepared you for your current job?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I could tell you the things I do with my engagement at them but I don’t think they’re very common amongst podcasters. But that’s another conversation for another day. Okay, so I dig that. So, those are prepare, prepare, prepare, do those things. And then you’ve done some research on how star-performing employees deliver just a wildly big multiple of value greater than, say, average-performing employees. Can we hear a little bit about that research?

Atta Tarki
Yeah, absolutely. So, this is also one of these things that you hear a lot about but then people don’t kind of know what to do with it. So, what I did is I looked at the lifetime prize money won in a few different sports. So, let’s talk about the prize money won by tennis players and poker players.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice and public data.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, if you look at 24,000 ATP players, now, ATP players are phenomenal tennis players. They are the top-ranked players in the world. And you look at the lifetime prize money that is collected by these players, the top 10% of the players there collected 98% of the total prize money from these 24,000 players.

And poker, I found data on 450,000 poker players, and there, again, it’s a very large sample size so we’re not talking about a small sample bias with five poker players or 20 poker players in a small tournament, but 450,000 of them. And in this enormous dataset, the top 10% of the players took home 85% of the lifetime prize money.

So, what that means in reality and in practice for you and your organization is that if you hire a top engineer, this person might not write 100 times more code than an average engineer, but the value of the code that they write might result in billions of people using Google every day as opposed to AltaVista or some other search engine.

Pete Mockaitis
Lycos, HotBot, Ask Jeeves.

Atta Tarki
Yes, all of those. America Online. All those search engines that were so famous once upon a day but no one knows about them anymore. And when I was using this example in one of my seminars, someone raised their hand and says, “Excuse me, what is AltaVista?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Atta Tarki
Putting this to practice, it’s not just Google who’s put this to practice. But let me give you one example of how this has applied in a team setting. Apple launched its operating system, iOS 10, using 600 engineers in two years, and it’s considered to be one of the better operating systems ever launched. Microsoft launched AltaVista using 10,000 engineers in six years, and then they later on had to retract AltaVista. Now, if you’re building a team, which staffing model would you prefer? Would you rather have the 600 Apple engineers or the 10,000 Microsoft engineers?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what’s striking here is so the multiplier can be huge. And I think it really does vary by role in terms of if there’s something that’s sort of like, “No, you just sort of have to follow this process repeatedly to go from input to process to output.” “Okay.” But there are other things like, “Hey, if you are generating patents, or coming up with a killer marketing campaign, or something, then the multiples become huge.”

And so, there are many kind of situations where the way the market or the environment is setup, it’s kind of like a winner take most, maybe 80/20, or even more concentrated.

Atta Tarki
I would say 90/10.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. So, the Apple employees, you know, I’m sure they’re getting paid more than the AltaVista employees, but they’re not getting paid that 10, 20, 100X multiple more. So, I always find this interesting, like we got many of the listeners in our audience. Like, let’s say you are that star-performing employee who is just really delivering extraordinary amounts of value, and, by golly, if you ask for a raise, it seems like you’ll get a little something, but there’s like budgets and dah, dah, dah, and that just sort of drives me bonkers. If you’re delivering 10 times the value than the average employee, how can you get paid at least two, or three, or four times what the average employee is getting paid so that you receive the rewards of the value?

Atta Tarki
Sure. And I’m sure that there are multiple approaches to this but the approach that I have seen works best is to, first of all, define the value upfront and agree upon that value with your supervisor and set those expectations upfront before you go off and do all that work, say, like, “If I’m able to get 5 billion users start using our search engine as opposed to kind of like 50,000 users, can I get a raise then?”

And when you do that, it becomes much easier to tie it to value and the results that you’re driving for the business and getting folks to, upfront, agree to that, “Okay, if I do that and I really kick ass, can I get a commensurate pay-raise?” As opposed to kind of like saying you hire from a business perspective, you hire 100 people to go out there and go look for gold coins on the beach here in Santa Monica, one of these 100 people comes back and says, “Look, I found a gold coin. I should get 90% of that value.” And you’re like, “Well, I have to pay for all the 99 other people as well that I hired to do the job, and I can’t give you 99% of the value of that one gold coin that you found.”

But if you kind of set the expectations upfront and say, “Look, I’m much better than everyone else at finding gold coins, or whatever it is you do, if I find you X, will you share Y percent of that profit with me?” if they say, “Sure,” go ahead and do it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that because I imagine many managers have just never been asked that question before. It’s like, it’s never occurred to me that it was possible to achieve that level but, now that you mentioned it, yes, and hopefully you can get that kind of locked-in. And I imagine many of the…well, hey, Netflix does this, right? The top-performing organizations just sort of go in expecting that you’re going to generate way more than an average employee, and they go in compensating you like they expect it from the get-go, and then that creates all kinds of nice virtuous cycles there.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, Netflix has a philosophy that they pay over market but then they also expect over market performance. Their role is that in procedural roles, a top performer is twice as effective as an average performer in creative jobs, like a programmer, or a marketing director, or whatnot. A top performer is 10 times more effective as an average performer. And, therefore, they might not pay 10 times as much for the top performers, but they definitely pay above market.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, that will do it. Boy, but there’s so many things I’d love to talk about.
Well, you tell me maybe in terms of just sort of burning issues in terms of absolutely candidates or employers need to start doing this or stop doing that, what’s something you really want to make sure you get out there before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Atta Tarki
Okay. So, I’m not going to repeat something I’m going to say there, but I would say that most consequential mistake people do when they are trying to hire superstars and they’ve kind of like already set their mind on the fact that, “Okay, it’s really important for me to hire a superstar,” is that then they overdo it a little bit. They say like, “Okay, who are all the superstars that I’ve ever worked with? Okay, Pete is a superstar, and Janice, etc., and all of these people were superstars.” And what made them superstars? “Well, Pete is a great strategic thinker, Janice is a great communicator, and this person has really good people skills.”

And then they say, “Okay. Well, I need someone who has all those things.” And they end up with kind of a job description with 17 different traits, and I call it that they end up recruiting for Frankenstein as opposed to kind of like superstar instead, and it’s the Frankenstein method of recruiting does not work. The Moneyball method of recruiting works. And the Moneyball method of recruiting is to reduce the number of factors that you deem are important to predict on-the-job success, not increase them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s great. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. My favorite quote is “Be the change.”

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

Atta Tarki
I find myself referring a lot to Jason Dana’s study. He works at Yale. And he did a study that is called the Dilution effect, and in this study, he essentially showed that if you give people more information about candidates, they make worse decisions about their on-the-job success rather than if you focus on just the most important decisions. So, keep that in mind, don’t replace quality with quantity when you’re trying to predict on-the-job success.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really like that and I think that’s part of the reason why your pitch resonated with me so much is because I am doing some of this. And, like, when I’m hiring now, I’m all about, “Show me what you can do with the evidence so that I will, in fact, not even look at resumes until pretty late in the process.” It’s like, “You’ve already demonstrated a lot of key things. Now I’m going to look at your resumes because I just found them heartbreaking.” It’s like, “Oh, my gosh, you got all these incredible writing bylines. You must be an amazing writer.”

But then when I kind of put them to the test, I was like, “Hmm, actually not so much. Maybe you had a lot of help from an editor at each of those places where you have cool bylines,” or maybe they spent, I don’t know, ten times the amount of hours in creating those pieces as compared to my assessments. But, anyway, yeah, I buy that because I might be deceived because I think, “Oh, well, it must be pretty good because of this,” then it’s like, “Well, that’s actually not predictive after all, so, hmm.”

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. And keep also in mind that it’s almost like a little bit like chemistry there where a person might’ve been very good and effective in another setting. And let’s say they worked at a magazine where they had like three different set of editors that gave them detailed feedback and revisions, and they had a language editor that helped them with the language, and this person was just really good at coming up with brilliant ideas and statistics, and gather people, like, “Okay, as a team, we can make this happen.”

But in your setting, you might need them to be a single contributor, and it might not work as well for you in your settings. So, given them the skills-based assessment will show you, “Okay, this is what I need for this job. And do I think that this person is going to be effective in our organization or not?”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Atta Tarki
Fiction book, 1984 George Orwell. Non-fiction book, I would say, Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Atta Tarki
So, in terms of favorite tools, favorite thing works that have been like very helpful for me is the concept of ABC tasks. The way I think about them is A tasks are the must-dos that I will definitely not miss doing. B tasks are things that are important but I’m not going to get to them today or this week, but I know and I promise myself that I’m going to get to them later. And C tasks are like if I get to do it, great. If not, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a habit?

Atta Tarki
Touch everything once. I try to drive tasks to completion when I start it. So, if I start an email, I try to kind of like just finish it. If I start writing on an article, or a chapter of the book, or a section of the book, I try to really drive it to completion so that I don’t have to start and stop multiple times.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients or audience?

Atta Tarki
Hire well, manage little.

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

Atta Tarki
Go to our website ECA-Partners.com and then click on my name.

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

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. So, if you do really believe that quality hires make a big difference for your business, quantify how much more valuable they are for your business, your division, on your role. Don’t just kind of like say it but quantify it, and see if you’re willing to act upon it. If the quality hire is that much more valuable to your organization, are you willing to invest in finding those hires or not? If not, it probably is an indicator that you don’t really believe in your numbers, and review your numbers until you’re willing to act upon them.

Pete Mockaitis
Atta, this has been a thrill. Thank you for sharing the good word. And good luck in all the ways you’re helping folks hire and get hired.

Atta Tarki
Absolutely. Pete, thank you so much for having me.

535: How to Conquer Doubt and Pursue New Career Opportunities with Nicolle Merrill

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Nicolle Merrill says: "We are swimming in opportunities to learn new skills."

Nicolle Merrill shares practical tips for changing careers–and beating the doubt that comes with it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s OK to not have it figured out
  2. Powerful, clarifying questions for charting a new career path
  3. Smart alternatives to a second degree

About Nicolle:

Four-time career-changer Nicolle Merrill excels in professional reinvention. A liberal arts graduate, she has written for Four Seasons and National Geographic private jet tours, taught digital communication skills to global executives, and sold adventure travel programs in New Zealand. As the former Associate Director of the Career Development Office At Yale School of Management, she coached hundreds of MBA students and professionals through all phases of their career transitions. Nicolle currently freelances as a conversation designer and analyst at an artificial intelligence startup. Her human-centered approach to career change, combined with a relentless curiosity about emerging career trends, has led to speaking engagements across the US, as well as in Canada and Ireland.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Nicolle Merrill Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Nicolle, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Nicole Merrill
Well, hey, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to have you here and I want to dig into so much good stuff about punching doubt in the face. That’s a good title.

Nicole Merrill
Oh, thanks. It was actually harder to name my book than it was to name my child, so I’m always glad to hear that.

Pete Mockaitis
But, first, I want to hear about you and pinball. I understand you’re a pinball enthusiast, and that hasn’t come up much before. So, what’s the story here?

Nicole Merrill
Well, I grew up with my dad really taking the lead on that. He loves pinball and didn’t think much of it as kind of growing up that it was this weird thing that we were always trying to find pinball whatever arcade we went into or later, as I got older, at bars. And then come to find out not everyone is into pinball as I am it turns out, but I love the excitement of pinball. I grew up in Vegas and maybe it’s the flashing lights and noise, maybe that’s kind of the overlap there.

And it’s really funny too. I’m actually a huge extrovert so I love people and I love meeting people and being in social circles. And if I go to a bar and I see a pinball machine, I am just drawn in and cut off from everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
I see.

Nicole Merrill
So, my love for pinball is real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, is there an all-time favorite pinball machine or what makes a pinball machine great versus fine?

Nicole Merrill
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say Mars Attacks is my favorite one because I think I just like the way that the machine reacts. And I tend to pick machines that have good multi-ball experiences. I like to get multi-ball, it’s kind of my personal quest on every machine. Some people want to get high scores. I want to get multi-ball.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood.

Nicole Merrill
I’m really into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Somehow there’s a segue between multi-ball and career changing, multi-careers. It’s lost on me but we’re just going to run with it. And so, you’ve done a whole lot of work with career development at the Yale School of Management. And I’d love to hear, so that’s a really cool position being able to interact with many, many folks of top business talent, hundreds of MBAs. So, could you tell us, what are some themes and stories that you’re hearing from them over and over again about their career doubts and desires and how they’re navigating it?

Nicole Merrill
Sure. I should just clarify, that was actually…I had a career change into that role, so I’m a four-time career changer actually since moved on from being a career coach. I’m in a different role now. But what was really interesting about that role was that I was working with people from all over the world, so it wasn’t necessarily just Americans. I was working with people from South America, from Europe, from Asia. And it’s really interesting to be able to work across cultures because a lot of times you start to notice some of the differences between cultures and how we approach things. But what’s even more exciting is figuring out ways that we’re very, very much the same.

And one of the things that I was discovering in that role as a coach is that a lot of people across cultures have similar doubts when it comes to their ability to make change happen, right? MBA is a professional degree. It is a degree where over 70% of people are going to be a career changer, so they’ve already decided, “Hey, I want something different,” right? But even though decided that, they still kind of weren’t sure. I’ve met MBAs who would come in to their program, committing to two years and have no idea what they wanted to do. And on the flipside, I have people that came in knowing for sure exactly what they want to do, and then they go through the interview process for it, let’s say consulting, and come to find out that’s not at all what they wanted to do.

And so, it was really interesting to work with students and, also, I work with alumni, to hear kind of their doubt about what they were investing in. They’d already made the decision to choose this program and to make a change, but they weren’t quite sure. And I thought that was really interesting because you would think if you chose a program, most people think, “Oh, you know what you’re going to do,” when, in fact, an MBA is actually two years for you to figure out what you want to do next. And I qualify that with next because most of us were taught that we would pick that one thing and that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives, but we’re no longer in that world of work. Our careers are not going to be lifetime careers, we’re going to make multiple changes.

And so, when you’re going to get an MBA as a career change path, it’s one of many, it’s often assumed that people know what they want to do, but, in fact, I learned a lot of people didn’t know what they want to do but this was the path to figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, they didn’t know what they wanted to do, and they’re on a path to figuring it out. And so, I want to hear about doubt in particular, so you’ve got a book titled Punch Doubt in the Face. Let’s hear about some of that emotional stuff when people are changing careers and they’re feeling the doubt. Like, what are the sorts of insecurities, or self-talk, or things that you hear in terms of how that’s showing up?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. Well, I think, starting off, career changers, and for most of us, like I said, we’ve been taught to kind of just pick this one thing, and you’re just going to do it for the rest of your life, and that’s what our parents did, but that’s not reality anymore. And, honestly, I’d argue, it’s not really the reality for some of our parents too, depending on how you grew up.

And so, the first thing that people go through when they’re thinking of changing careers is kind of this feeling of loneliness, like, “Oh, my God, I’ve failed.” They feel like they didn’t make it work, or they’re feeling like nobody else could possibly understand this because we’re bombarded by messages of success and everybody else doing it right. And I think we’re also in a culture that doesn’t share when we’re failing in a career. And I qualify that we’re not failing. You’re not failing when you’re not doing it right. It’s okay to change jobs.

And I think this doubt comes from that feeling that we should figure it out, we should be able to make it work, and so when it comes to change, people feel like they can’t quite do it. And on top of it, it’s not like we teach people how to change careers. I don’t have an MBA but when I go out to working, when I was at Yale and part of an MBA program that teaches people how to change careers, I was shocked by what they taught people. I had changed careers multiple times and nobody taught me how to do it. I kind of had to figure it out, right? Go against the grain almost.

And so, a lot of people have doubt about changing career because they haven’t really been taught how to do it. The other piece is that if you’ve been a career changer before or talked to career changers, a lot of times when you tell people you want to make a change, they want to know, “Well, what specifically will you do?” They want answers right away because it can make people feel uncomfortable when you don’t have an answer, right?

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m telling you that I want to make a career change, and then you ask me what do I want to do.

Nicolle Merrill
What do you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re saying, I, the career changer, am uncomfortable, or my conversational partner is uncomfortable, or both of us are uncomfortable.

Nicolle Merrill
Well, probably, at this point, it’ll be both of us. But a lot of times when a career changer says, “Oh, I want to make a change,” one or two things happens. The conversational partner will be like, “Oh, great. Well, what do you want to do?” It puts a lot of pressure on that career changer to have an answer, and a lot of career changers don’t actually have an answer in the beginning. They have an inkling. They have a feeling, like, “This is not right. This is not working for me.” And there’s a variety of reasons we could go into as to why it’s not working. But when they first start talking about it, and I actually had this conversation with a friend a couple of days ago who said her partner was like, “Well, just go do it. Just go do it.” And she’s like, “I mean, the problem isn’t that I can’t go do it. The problem is I don’t know what it is.”

And so, career changers really need to make space for themselves, to really hold space for ambiguity, and that space that says, “I know I want to make a change, I just don’t know what it is yet.” And they commit to kind of figuring that out. And I think doubt really starts to creep in when people say, “Well, what do you want to do?” And if you don’t have an answer, that can cause you to be like, “Oh, my God, I can’t do this. I don’t know what I want to do.” And then we start going inside of that negative feeling of being really stuck without a path forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I want to dig into sort of each of the stages here from, “I’m sensing a change may be necessary,” to, “I’m figuring out what that thing is,” to, “I’m landing the job.” So, maybe to tee up that arch, could you perhaps share with us a cool story associated with someone who made an awesome change and how that unfolded for them?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. Well, there’s been a couple of them. I’ll just tell you a story from my own only because I’m a four-time career changer. I recently went from being a career coach to I now work as a conversation designer for an AI startup, so I work for an artificial intelligence startup. And what that means is I spend a lot of my time using qualitative analysis skills to improve the product. And it’s an emerging job, and it’s a job that there’s no clear path for.

And I knew I wanted to go into artificial intelligence because I’m relentlessly curious about new technology, and I spent the better part of a year after I left career coaching to start to understand some of these AI products in the market. I was reading about them, I started reading industry trends, I started listening to podcasts, and then I started writing about them, I started writing about what I was reading in the news about artificial intelligence in the workplace. I started to narrow down my interests because when we talk about artificial intelligence that’s like a huge topic, right?

And I started to narrow it down into something that was a little more tangible, something that aligned with my background, and that was in HR, so looking at how does HR use artificial intelligence in the workplace. And so, again, I started diving into these products, writing about them, I started taking online courses to learn about artificial intelligence, not necessarily as an engineer but from the business perspective. And then, finally made the jump into a startup because I saw a job that was written for what I could do. It wasn’t necessarily written exactly for my background but I knew I could do it based on all the studying and the writing I’d done and my previous skillset. And so, I applied and I got the job, and I have now shifted into a new path.

And that is almost textbook for how someone should go about making a career change. It starts with your curiosity. It starts with specifically, “What are you curious about?”

Pete Mockaitis
What I’m curious right now, Nicolle, I’ve got some curiosity associated with what a conversational designer is. So, just so we can get closure on that point before we dig into your wisdom elsewhere, what does that mean?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. So, conversation designer is someone who works on a chatbot, so the chatbot is to improve it. I tell people I make it sound more human, so I look for where the mistakes are at and report those mistakes back to the AI team. I also write scripts to make it sound better for different contexts. And then I review the conversations to ensure that the user experience is a positive one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Nicolle Merrill
So, it’s a hybrid job. It’s a mix-up of writing, user experience, and just having a technical understanding of how natural language processing works. So, again, I’m not an engineer but I know how to work with engineers in order to make recommendations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. that’s cool. Well, so let’s go through the arch then. So, when someone is in the midst of being in a career, not quite sure if they’re feeling it, they think it might be time for a change, what do we do now?

Nicolle Merrill
What do we do now? Well, one, like I said, make space, so claim that space and get comfortable with it, right? Get comfortable with the idea that you’re going to make a change, because depending on people’s level of risk, that could be a big deal, or it could just be like, “Yeah, I’m going to change things up. No big deal.” That’s going to be very personal depending on who the person is.

Then I want you to take time to figure out what you’re interested in because a lot of times when people are going into a career change, they’re doing it from a place of either being stuck, they might feel unmotivated. I’ve talked to people who were in toxic work environments and that can have a real detrimental effect on your confidence level. And so, really taking the space to reflect on the things that you’re interested in professionally. You can do some personal interests but, really, what excites you about work?

Self-reflection is pretty critical in this stage, and carving out space to do that self-reflection. And you’ll notice that’s a theme. I talk a lot about carving out space and that’s because we’re all very busy people, right? We’re managing a lot of different projects and people and our personal lives, and so taking out time for ourselves to step back and say, “Okay, wait a minute. What do I want in my job?” And there’s a series of reflection questions in the book, but really looking it through the lens of, “Who do I want to work with? What type of work do I like to do? How do I want my manager to treat me?” These are all things that you can reflect on without actually knowing what it is you want to go do, right?

So, really taking a step back and making that space for yourself to self-reflect. Then start looking at, “Okay, what are the opportunities?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, while we’re making space and self-reflecting, you listed a couple questions. What have you found to be some of the surprise super winning questions that tend to surprisingly surface insight frequently?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. I think one of my favorite ones is, “What kind of work would you like to do?” So, a lot of times we tend to think of our work as job titles, like, “I want to be a travel writer,” or, “I want to be a firefighter.” No, think about the work. What does the work look like? What does it feel like? And that gets into things like, “Do you want to be in front of a computer all day?” versus, “Would you like to be building trails out in the wilderness?”

I think getting in depth about how you’d like to work. And then also thinking about what would you like the company to be like. I think this is another powerful one because we tend to think of, again, our job titles. But I know so many people that are trying to get out of toxic work environments, and that can be a big catalyst for changing careers and changing jobs, but also changing careers. And we start to talk about, “Well, how would you like to be treated by a company? What would it look like? What are the values that you’re looking for in a place of work?”

And that leads to other questions, like, “How would you like your coworkers to be?” And for some people, they might say, “I don’t really care about my coworkers,” and that’s okay because that’s for you if that’s your preference of work, that’s fine. But we need to at least dig into it and figure out what it is, because most people are just like, “I need to find a job,” and we’re not thinking about the environment in which that job takes place. And, as you know, as we all know, culture has a huge effect on our workplace and our daily jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like the point you brought up about the coworkers there. It’s like you might not care and maybe the main thing you want from your coworkers is for them to leave you alone so you can have long stretches of creative time, or problem-solving time, or whatever. Or maybe the main thing you want from your coworkers is lots of fun collaborative back-and-forth stuff. Or maybe you want your coworkers to give you tons of feedback and tell you all the things that you’re doing that can be improved upon, and maybe you don’t because that’s really stressful and anxiety-provoking for you.

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, even that, all those things that you just said though, those were great examples because within that you’re getting insights. So, maybe you do want a bunch of coworkers because you want to be able to collaborate, and there it is right there, collaboration, that’s one of your values. You want to be able to collaborate with people, so you want to make sure that a job that you’re going into, that you’re going to be able to have that, right? And chances are you might actually be good at that so that’s something that’s a skill that you can work on in your job. Or maybe you like the deep work and so you realize that you need to have a job where you’re going to be able to, I find this, I work with engineers, so that deep work piece is really valuable there. They need to block out three to four hours to code.

And so, again, within this reflection, even by thinking about what your coworkers are like, you discover things about yourself and how you like to work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there we go. We’ve done some reflection, and then you said next up is opportunities.

Nicolle Merrill
Yes. So, this is where it starts to get interesting. One of the things that always surprises me is that we tend to look at our opportunities as only in the context of what’s in front of us. I was having a conversation with one of my friends who’s a firefighter, and she had said to me, “You know, what’s interesting about firefighting is that there’s a lot of customer service involved.” And I went, “Wait. What?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” She goes, “You have to go. You show up to a scene. Obviously, you’re triaging but you’re trying to understand what is happening. You’re trying to help the person who called you.” And she’s like, “A lot of it is frontline customer service.” And I had never thought about firefighting in that way.

And it really was an aha moment for me because a lot of us, we tend to make assumptions about jobs whether because we’re familiar with them or maybe it’s the hot job of the moment but without knowing what those jobs actually are. Another great example, I met tons of MBAs that wanted to do product management. Hot job, right? Consistently high-paying job, usually over six figures, very in-demand job. And then I’d ask them, I’d say, “Well, what about product management interests you or where do you think you do well in that role?” And they’d say, “Oh, I don’t know.” And I was like, “Well, okay, we got to get to know what these jobs are.”

And I think, as a career changer, going back to kind of that pressure to figure it out, you have to give yourself space to be able to figure out what these jobs are, so really diving into the opportunities. And there’s two really key ways to do that. I call this exploring the field of possibilities. One is simply reading job descriptions. This is a tool someone gave me years ago, like ten years ago, and I thought they were crazy, I was like, “Why would I spend my time reading job descriptions, they’re boring?” But come to find out they’re like mini-stories. They’re a company telling you a story about themselves, and some of them tell really bad stories, badly-written job descriptions, and some of them tell you really good ones.

And instead of looking at job descriptions as, “Can I do this or not?” most people talk themselves out of it, we should be looking at it as, “Does this interest me? Is this the type of work that interest me?” It’s a very different mindset from reading job descriptions looking for a job. And that’s where you start getting into like, “Oh, this is a job I’ve never heard of before. This is a type of work that I didn’t even know existed,” conversation design being one of them that I’m currently in. So, that’s one of the ways to do it. And I’m not talking like spending hours. I’m talking like build 10 minutes into your day to read some job descriptions based on keywords that you’re interested in.

So, let’s say you’re interested in pinball, right? I don’t know what jobs they would be because I haven’t looked but I would put pinball into a job search engine and see what comes up.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Nicolle, it’s hilarious that you mentioned job searching in pinball because that’s actually come up before on this show, Episode 167, with Nick Campbell. What are the odds?

Nicolle Merrill
Wow. Okay. I feel so connected now.

Pete Mockaitis
But, please, continue. Pinball exploring.

Nicolle Merrill
Right. So, you could go into any job search engine and just put in pinball. Or maybe you’re a writer and you want to get into pinball writing, put those keywords in there, and then read the job descriptions. What are they asking for? The key point of this is to not talk yourself out of it. You can’t be going, “Well, I’m not qualified. I’m not qualified.” Of course, you’re not qualified, right? You’re at the beginning of a career change, and one of the parts of a career change is once you figured it out you have to then go get the skills that qualify you. That’s a whole different stuff. But, right now, you’re just looking at what are the possibilities. And so, start making a list and familiarize yourself. That’s one way to do it.

The second way to do it, and this is actually my preferred way to do it, I want you to do both, but it’s through conversations. There’s an exercise in my book, my book has a ton of exercises in it, it’s called 50 Conversations, and in it, I assign you the task of interviewing 50 people about their jobs. And in the past, we’ve heard a lot about informational interviewing. This is that but dialed back. It’s more of an exploratory conversation, just to learn what people do.

I have a really good example of this. I used to be a travel writer for a private jet travel company, it was a job I fell into. And it was a really interesting job and I enjoyed it. I didn’t get to travel much despite the title. And at the time, I was interviewing someone from the staff, and that person told me that his job was a travel scout. I was like, “What’s a travel scout?” This guy’s job was to travel to different locations around the world and scout them out for our tour company. So, we were in luxury travel, he would travel to luxury locations, stay in their hotels, try out their activities, write a report, and send it back to the product team. And I went, “Oh, my gosh, that’s a job that exists?”

And it was like just this aha moment of like there are so many jobs out there that we don’t know exists and so you have to go out and investigate the opportunities. You can’t just sit there and say, “Well, I don’t know what fits me,” and then just stay with it. You have to discover and seek out different types of jobs. Because when you start talking to people and ask them what they do but, more importantly, how they got into it, it starts to become so much more interesting. And then you can start mapping yourself to some of those paths. You can start opening up possibilities and seeing yourself in those paths. And then, sometimes, someone might give you an answer, and you’re like, “That’s definitely not what I want to do,” and that’s just as valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re having these 50 conversations, again, I’m curious about what are some of the top questions that really surface a good view of what those jobs look, sound, feel like in practice?

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah. So, a lot of times people don’t want to engage in these conversations because it’s the, “Well, what do you do?” and that feels so superficial. And a lot of times people don’t add follow-up questions to that. So, it’s the ability to add a follow-up question, and say, for example, in your case, you did it really well. You were like, “Well, what is a conversation designer?” I have a lot of people who I’ll say, “Oh, I’m a conversation designer,” and they’re like, “Oh, cool.” I was like, “Okay, right.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You don’t really think it’s cool or you would’ve asked more.”

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, right. I mean, we all do that, right? And I’m not faulting anyone for that because conversation is tough. But, really, if you want to get to the bottom of it, it’s the ability to ask good follow-up questions, and say, “Well, that’s really interesting. Tell me…” if you don’t know what it is, “…what does that look like in your everyday job?” “How did you get into that?” is an even better question for career changers because that’s where the path starts to unravel.

I have found people say things like, “You know what, I just fell into it.” Or, “You know what, I went back to school, and went to a bootcamp, and then that taught me these skills, and I was able to combine it with what I did before and get a job.” There are so many different paths into careers nowadays, and that’s what I love about our new world of work. It’s not like our parents’ generation where you were like stuck on kind of just one path and you had to go get an MBA or a law degree to change, right? Those are professional degree programs that were designed for career changers. We have so many more paths and so when you start to ask people, “How did you get into that work?” you start to see those paths, and you start to see what you can and cannot do. If someone says, “Well, I went back to school for four years to be a doctor,” that might not be your path, right? Or maybe it is.

I interviewed someone, I have a podcast for career changers, and I interviewed someone who went back to school to be a chiropractor and that took four years, and that’s after they’ve been in the workforce for a long time. And so, this is a very personal decision, and that’s why I think being able to talk to people about why they made their change, what their path was like to get there, and really ask those meaty follow-up questions not only is it valuable for you in the beginning but it’s also impactful. It gives you connection and it gives you motivation. Because going back to the beginning where I talked about some career changers and their doubt, they feel alone. And so, being able to talk to people, it can be so motivational to hear how they did it. And that’s where I think the value is in conversations.

And as I write in the book, I was like you might think I’m crazy for saying 50 conversations, and that you can’t do that, but I’ve met people when I was a coach before who did a hundred conversations. And the insights from them were just incredible, and you can see their eyes light up, and they talk about where they were before they had those conversations versus where they were after they had those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then let’s say you’ve had those conversations, and then you found an opportunity that sounds super cool, and you would want that job to become yours. What do you do next?

Nicolle Merrill
Okay. So, then it’s a process of figuring out, okay, where are we at in terms of qualifications. For most career changers, and again there’s variety so I’m generalizing here, but if you’re looking to make a big change, and let’s say you’re going into a new industry or a new role, it’s time to assess your skills. And this is really diving into what your skills, what you’re good at, what maybe you’re not so good at, and then knowing what the skills are for that next job on the new career path, right?

So, it’s really looking at both your skillset, the skillset required to get the next job, and then analyzing your skills gap. What skills are you missing? So, for example, I talk to a lot of career changers that are looking to get into tech. We look at, “Okay, is this going to be a tech position where you want to become a software engineer or a user experience designer? Or is this something where maybe you’re not working on the technical product, you want to be tech adjacent? Maybe you want to go into digital marketing, and you just need to learn some basics on digital marketing.” It’s really trying to figure out where your skillset is at and what skills you need in order to get the job, because that’s going to be the driver for how you choose a learning experience. And the learning experience is the program that’s going to give you the skills you need to make your career transition.

Pete Mockaitis
And program can take many different flavors.

Nicolle Merrill
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Whether it’s a particular educational credential degree or volunteering. Can you maybe show us some of the other angles and formats that can take?

Nicolle Merrill
Definitely. I think this is what gets me so excited because I dedicate a huge part of the book to it is walking through these examples because, again, people tend to think of kind of that old-school mindset, “Well, I got to go back to school for four years,” or, “I’ve got to get a master’s degree.” Those are possibilities but there’s also all these other ones. We’ve got online programs. And not only do we have online programs, we have short-term programs which are what I call the skill-building programs.

So, maybe you’re just going, let’s say it is digital marketing, and you need to know the basics. You could take a three-month course for $450 and, boom, you’ve got a learning community, you’ve got skills that you’re learning, and a portfolio that you’re coming out with. That’s a three-month program intensive. Or you could do something like Coursera. Coursera is a huge learning platform, or Udemy, or Udacity. Some of them have longer-term online programs, some you can take for free, some are a nominal investment. You learn on your time. You might get a credential out of them. Those are also paths.

And then you’ve got the wide world of bootcamps which can be on campus or online depending on, again, you want to get comfortable with understanding your learning style because, for some people, online is ideal, they’re like, “Yes, I can do it whenever I want,” and others are like, “No, I need that immersive on-campus, I need people around,” that kind of dictates what learning experience you choose. But those are also options as well. And those bootcamps really run a range from a year-long program to a three- to six-month stint. It really depends on your program. That’s an option for career changers as well. I think most bootcamps are made for career changers. They’re made for people that want to level up oftentimes in their digital skills or in their data fluency skills.

And then you have the entire world of DIY learning through YouTube and podcasts and newsletters. If you’re looking to get into an industry and you don’t know where to start, being able to watch videos from that industry, subscribe to industry newsletters, listen to podcasts, my God, the amount of podcasts, as you probably know, on subjects that you can just dive into and immerse yourself in these worlds. You don’t have to go back to school for that, right?

So, these are all your options for learning. And if that sounds overwhelming, that’s fair. It is overwhelming. We are swimming in opportunities to learn new skills, to learn new ways of work in new industries. And your goal as a career changer is to really sort through all of that and figure out what’s going to be the best learning experience that’s going to, A, get you where you want to be, your career goal, but, B, also work for your learning style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when we talk about learning, there are some very particular skills that you need to acquire for a given role that you’ve zeroed in on. I’d also love to get your take on what are some of the top skills that here, now, in the year 2020, every professional just really needs to be okay with or excellent at to stay nimble, agile, and adaptable – these are synonyms – able to capitalize on many opportunities?

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, that’s a great question, and you hit it right on the head there, to stay agile because that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re heading into the age of agile worker, the people that collect skills and apply them in different contexts, right? It’s no longer kind of that siloed, “I do this one thing.” And so, there’s four skills that I’ll say consistently, I call them the power skills. It’s communication, digital fluency, data fluency, and creativity, and these are all very big buckets.

When I talk about communication, it’s this ability to meet audiences where they’re at. It’s an ability to write for diverse audiences on different channels. I use this example a lot. If you’ve ever had a manager, let’s say you have 500-word email that nobody read, that’s a really good example of someone that doesn’t know how to communicate. It’s the ability to synthesize your ideas and present them to people who are maybe outside of your department or team. The ability to speak publicly about your ideas. Persuade others to get on board. That becomes more relevant as you move up into leadership and so on. And, again, I talk about these skills. You don’t have to have them all right now. But they’re a set of skills that are going to allow you to work across both functions and careers as you move forward in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
And the digital fluency and data fluency, can you give us some of the sub-categories within those?

Nicolle Merrill
Absolutely. So, there’s been a big push obviously to learn to code and, depending on your age, you may have been involved in learning to code, you may not have. I certainly advocate for learning the basics of code and picking a language and just learning the basic syntax and how you think through it and the logic. But if that’s not as accessible to you right now, because I know some people are like, “You know what, that just doesn’t have a use case in my job.” That’s fine. At least learn what the languages are and how they’re applied in the context of projects.

So, for example, online, Harvard offers an intro to computer science, wherein across, I think, all nine weeks they go through all the programming languages. And it’s really insightful because it shows you just all the different use cases that programming languages are applied in the context of your organization. And for people, as we look at the future of work, our work is becoming interdisciplinary. It’s no longer siloed. In fact, Harvard Business Review just had a big article in September on “Cross-Silo Leadership,” and about how leaders need to ensure that their employees are working on projects that cross functions across teams so they can build up collaboration skills, problem-solving skills, and so on.

And so, if you think about you, I’m speaking not in a leadership term right now but you as the employee, your ability to work with engineers to understand how software works in your organization. I talk a lot about automation tools in my book to understand how automation tools are being implemented in your place of work, that’s critical. And I know there have been people in organizations that I have obviously come across in my work that have said things like, “Oh, technology,” and they kind of like make a face, like, “I don’t want to deal with it.” And that’s funny, but in the course of your career, you need to lean into the technology and understand it. You don’t have to know how to code it, but you need to understand how it works and understand how it affects your work and the organization as a whole. So that’s briefly on digital fluency.

Data fluency, very brief. Understanding how data is used in the context of your organization. Managers being able to make decisions based on data, like quantitative data. Being able to understand where data comes from in your organization and how it’s being used to make decisions about your job. How are you measuring things? Are you collecting data from users? What is the data and so on? That’s kind of a broader topic that always gets a lot of questions. I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but just to summarize, the role of data in the workplace cannot be overestimated right now. I think we all have heard that from our personalized lives. We hear a lot about data that’s being collected about us. The same thing is happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, those are the skills, and go forth and learn them. Well, now, let’s hit the final step here. You know what you want, you’ve got the skills to get it, and then you are kind of actually job hunting, resumes, cover letters, networking, interviews. Can we hear some of your top tips here?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. One thing I’ll note too on this job-searching piece, this is where a lot of the doubts starts to come in because you’re like, “Oh, I don’t have the experience. I don’t have the experience.” And this is where you really want to lean on the fact that you’ve already done the hard work. You’ve done the work to learn new skills, figure it out, so this is just completing the process, and I say that because the job search is pretty terrible. It can be really terrible especially to career changers because our doubts start to creep in. So, I want to acknowledge that that happens.

The second thing I want to talk about is the job searching itself is changing. There are new tools that are being used that use artificial intelligence and automation that are shifting how we search for jobs. So, now we’re seeing tools that come into the hiring process, that I was just learning about one the other day that is taking social data and scraping it and making predictions about you as a new hire.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, geez.

Nicolle Merrill
And that’s all really ethically a problem. I actually write about it in the book. But this demonstrates just kind of the experiments that are happening right now with AI in regards to hiring. We see it with HireVue, they are a company that does video interviews where you interview with a video, and an algorithm analyzes your 25,000-data points to see if you are fit for the job. Now, this isn’t going to be all jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on the video interview.

Nicolle Merrill
Exactly. So, you’re essentially just interviewing with a video, like with your camera, with pre-written questions, you give your answer, and then an algorithm will evaluate you. The Wall Street Journal, wrote about this a couple of months back. And, again, I highlight these to really show these are some of the extremes but they are being used. And so, the world of work, as I talk about the future of work, it’s already here, these same tools with automation and AI are starting to affect your job search. So, yes, a resume is important. It will always, for the near future, be very important, so will cover letters. But that’s where your networking really comes in. It’s the ability to build relationships with people inside of organizations.

All that work, if you do the 50 conversations exercise, the other benefit of doing that is that you get comfortable having conversations with strangers. You build your conversational skills. You get comfortable asking strangers for advice, and you get comfortable talking about yourself. And, really, networking is that exchange of information, right, “Tell me about your organization. Tell me about your work. And then, also, let me tell you about me.” And it’s not something huge. Just a brief sentence. It’s your story. Who are you? What are you interested in? Why did you make this change? And what motivates you? Having that story.

And so, all of these pieces fit together but they’re all even more important now because of automation in the hiring process, because mostly bigger companies right now, not so much smaller businesses, but mostly bigger companies and corporations are using new technology that changes the nature of the job search so your resume might not be enough.

And so, I would encourage any career changer to get comfortable building a one-pager website that defines you how you want to be defined. If you’ve ever had a resume and thought, “This is not who I am,” a website is a chance to kind of show off a little more of you and really frame your career background and your story the way you want. And the other thing that it does is it shows employers, A, communication skills, B, it shows you can write for the web, and it’s a beautiful thing to add into your email signature when you’re conversing with people. Say, “Hey, take a look at my website.”

And I was just on Wix the free platform, the other day for my sister who was curious about how to build a website for herself. And they have some great portfolios on there specifically for job seekers, and it’s free.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you.

Nicolle Merrill
So, that would be my advice.

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

Nicolle Merrill
I just want to say to all the career changers out there, I always hear from people on the other side who are super thrilled that they did it, and I want to say that if you’re thinking about doing it, it’s completely worth it. Go for it. Don’t let doubt stand in the way. You have a ton of resources out there to help you, so start taking the baby steps right now.

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

Nicolle Merrill
It was actually when I wrote my book, And I spent a lot of time on Twitter, and I saw this quote by Ava DuVernay, and someone had asked, “Any tips to stop thinking your writing is terrible?” going back to this kind of doubt. And she says, “Just know that everyone’s writing is terrible. Until it’s not. No one’s stuff is right immediately. You gotta work it. Refine it. Shape it. Spend time with it. It’s a relationship. Between you and what comes from you. Not easy. Gonna be terrible before it’s not. And that’s okay.”

And what I love about that is that it mirrors so much of what it’s like to learn to do something, right? this ability to really sit with kind of that discomfort and know that, “Oh, it’s not quite right. I’m learning. I’ve got to figure it out,” and stay with it and build. That’s what I took from that quote. And it’s so relevant both for writers and also for those that are changing careers and having to learn something new.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Nicolle Merrill
Oh, yeah, I want to do just a book because it’s all of her research, it’s called Reclaiming Conversation by Dr. Sherry Turkle. And it’s about ethnographic studies on how digital communications is reshaping our conversational skills. And she does it by family, by individual, and in the workplace. So, it’s all of her research together in a book, and it’s probably one of the most impactful books that I have read to this day on communication skills.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you share with us one sort of mind-blowing discovery about how, indeed, digital stuff is reshaping our brains?

Nicolle Merrill
One of the things that she had shared was just the mere presence of a phone on the table, even face down, disrupts the ability to get into deeper conversation. And, again, this wasn’t a book that shames for using phones by any means. It was like, “Let’s talk about what’s actually happening in our conversation.” And one of the things that she points out in that book is that conversation is a skill. And because we spend in our time in digital environments, Slack, email, texts, social, all of those phases, we’re losing the ability to have open-ended conversations with each other.
And it resonated because one of the top things I heard as a career coach was, “But what should I say? What should I say?” And hearing that from her kind of gave me validation to say, “Okay, this isn’t just me that experiences this. We’re all kind of experiencing this.” And it was incredibly impactful. And now I work very hard on practicing my conversation skills and having those kinds of ambiguous open-ended conversations to make sure I can build relationships and engage with people.

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

Nicolle Merrill
Things that I use to be awesome at my job? Is it funny if I say LinkedIn?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, LinkedIn is fantastic. And how about a favorite habit?

Nicolle Merrill
Oh, a favorite habit? Oh, I love walking. I walk. I walk because I need to get away from the screen and it’s so hard to do that, but walking is probably my absolute favorite thing to do. The clarity you get being outside, and I live in the rainy Pacific Northwest. I do rain walks, so, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them quote it back to you frequently?

Nicolle Merrill
I will say, “Say yes to the conversation” would be the top one.

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

Nicolle Merrill
I would point them to either on Twitter. I’m @pdxnicolle, or you can reach me through my blog which is FutureSkills.blog.

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

Nicolle Merrill
Yes, engage in conversations. I would challenge you to have 50 conversations with people even if you’re not looking for a new job. Transform it into something you’re curious about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nicolle, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and enjoy designing conversations and all you’re up to.

Nicolle Merrill
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. This has been a lot of fun.

451: Deploying Your Mental Energy Brilliantly with Dr. Art Markman

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Art Markman says: "You have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to do something different."

Professor Art Markman shares insights from cognitive science research for us to be smarter every day at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to making a great first impression
  2. The pros and cons of high energy
  3. The role of dissatisfaction in motivating yourself

About Art

Art Markman is a Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He got his ScB from Brown University and his PhD from the University of Illinois.  Before coming to the University of Texas, Art taught at Northwestern University and Columbia University.

Art’s research explores thinking. Art is also the executive editor of the journal of Cognitive Science and is a former executive officer of the Cognitive Science Society. Art has always been interested in bringing insights from Cognitive Science to a broader audience. To that end, he writes blogs for many sites including Psychology Today and Fast Company. He consults for companies interested in using Cognitive Science in their businesses.  Art is also on the scientific advisory boards for the Dr. Phil Show and the Dr. Oz Show.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Art Markman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Art, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Art Markman
Oh, it’s great to be talking to you today. Thanks so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’d have a ton of fun. And I think, first things first. I got to say I-L-L.

Art Markman
I-N-I.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. It’s great to have a fellow alum in the house. And I also understand that you play sax for a blues band. What’s the story here?

Art Markman
Yes, so, in my mid-30s I decided to take up the saxophone.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Art Markman
And I’d played the piano as a kid, and realized I’d never played another instrument, because when I was 5th grade, and they demonstrated band instruments, I asked my mom if I could play the French horn, and she said, “No, we have a piano. You play the piano.” And I realized in my mid-30s it was no longer her fault. So, I took up the sax and then started playing in bands after I’d been practicing for about 10 years. And it’s great fun. It gets me out of the house in a healthy way.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are the names of the bands? I love band names.

Art Markman
So, right now, I actually transitioned to playing with a ska band, and we’re called Phineas Gage who was a 19th century railroad worker who had a spike blown through his head and lived.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I don’t know why I know that.

Art Markman
Well, it’s just one of those random facts that once you hear it once, it tends to stick with you.

Pete Mockaitis
But didn’t he have some sort of a condition as a result of it that was studied by a lot of folks?

Art Markman
Yes. So, one of the things, so Antonio Damasio makes a lot out of this because if Phineas Gage seemed to have trouble actually connecting the emotional experience of his life with the cognitive experience. And so, it was easy to take advantage of him because that little spidey sense that goes off in most of us when we’re dealing with somebody who’s a little shady didn’t seem to affect him.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, cognitive science is your cup of tea, and you, indeed, like to talk about applying it, too, in your latest book, Career Advancement. Could you maybe orient us a little bit to what exactly does the term cognitive science mean, and what are some kind of key concepts that make a world of difference in career advancement?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, cognitive science, it goes beyond mere psychology to say that if we’re going to understand something as complex as a mind, we need to understand the science of behavior, that’s where psychology comes in, but also how brains work, so neuroscience. It’s useful to have some computation to think through how we might build an intelligent machine, and so robotics and computer science come in, as well as culture so you get some anthropology, and linguistics to understand how language functions.

And so, when you take that much broader-based perspective, you get all of these different insights into the way the mind works. And I’m sort of a native-born cognitive scientist. My undergraduate major was actually cognitive science. And one of the things that that does is it allows you to get more perspective on why you think the way you do.

I like to point out that almost everybody I know has a mind and almost nobody knows how that mind works. And, yet, if you learn about the way your mind works, it can help you to do the things that you do more effectively. For example, one of the things that I talk about in the new book is it has to do with the way that you present yourself in a resume, that you might think, “Well, I should jam every conceivable positive thing into my resume that I can find,” under the assumption that people are adding together the total amount of goodness about you. But it turns out that when people actually look at a resume, they are averaging.

And so, if you put on something that’s good but not great, you could actually lower your average a little bit. And so, if you’ve got that honorable mention for a prize, yeah, you might want to think twice about whether you want to include that because it might actually bring down people’s overall evaluation of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I think, in particular, when you’re trying to customize a resume to tell a story in terms of that’s really going to resonate for the recipient, as opposed to like, “This guy is all over the place,” versus, “Oh, this guy is a real pro and exactly the things I want him or her to be a pro at.”

Art Markman
Exactly right. So, you really want to understand the mind, not only your own mind, but the minds of the people who are going to be evaluating you so that you can be as effective as possible at impressing them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy, yes. So, we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff. But I’d love to kick it off by hearing what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made when it comes to deploying some of these cognitive science insights for career advancement?

Art Markman
So, I would say that one of the more surprising elements of this has to do, for me, with understanding values and value systems. That one of the things that you find, particularly when you start to talk to people who’ve been in the workplace for a little while, is they get dissatisfied with their careers because they realize that the things that they thought they wanted when they were 20 are not actually the things that they wanted.

And it becomes useful to begin to think about, “Well, what kinds of things do I value? Am I the sort of person who actually cares about prestige? Or do I really care about helping others and being part of my community? And am I on a track to be able to do that?” Because you may not be able to reach all of your goals and achieve all of the things that meet your values in your first job, but, at some point, you’ve got to feel like you’re making progress towards it.

And I think that a lot of people don’t take that into account until too late, and then you experience that mid-life crisis, or you think, “I’ve just wasted all of my time.” When, in fact, you can begin to do that much earlier in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Could you share what are some key values that folks think they want and realize that they don’t kind of often?

Art Markman
Well, so, I have a number of stories in the book because I was happy enough to be able to enlist the help of people on social media. So, as I was writing the book and had all these concepts, I would just ask people questions and they would tell me their stories. And I’ll tell you two that were kind of fun.

One is a guy named Brian. He finished college and, really, took a job that was going to pay well and give him some prestige, and he actually realized that was not what he wanted at all. He left his job, went to do the Peace Corps for a while, and came back, and really focused on jobs that were going to help others. That was actually something that he ended up being passionate about.

But there are other kinds of values. There’s another story in the book about a guy who went into a session to talk about State Department jobs, and walked out of a test that they took, and other folks were laughing at this one question about, “Who would enjoy being in a warzone?” And he realized, actually, he wanted that. He responded positively to that question. He realized that adventure was a very important value for him, and he ended up fashioning a career that put him in a lot of dangerous places, but it was utterly exhilarating to him.

So, some of us want enjoyment and adventure, and some people want stability and they want to know where their next paycheck is coming from. Some people want to be helpful, and some people really want to look out for themselves. And all of those things across the population are values that people hold. We get some of those from the culture around us, but, particularly in the United States, we’re given a lot of opportunity to really decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And so, you lay out Shalom Schwartz who crafted a set of values with 10 universal values there from power, and achievement, and hedonism, and stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, conformity, tradition, security. That was fast.

Art Markman
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
No need to dig into every one of them. But it’s intriguing, you say that there’s a couple of ways you can go about clarifying your own values and what’s most potent for you. And what are those?

Art Markman
Well, the very first thing you want to do is actually to be aware of them, to be aware that there are these values, and to begin to ask, to what degree do these resonate with you. And there are scales that you can take. I’m actually going to be putting one up online for people who read the book if they want to actually test themselves against these values.

But one of the things I think is important is periodically, throughout your career, not every week by any means, but maybe on that yearly basis, to ask yourself, “Well, how am I doing? Do I feel like I am doing the kinds of things in my work life often enough that I am making progress towards those kinds of goals? Or do I feel like my values are not being reflected at all in the work that I’m doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really resonating for me as I’m thinking about my first job that resembled a professional job. There was an internship at Eaton Corporation, which I’ve not heard of but is a Fortune 500 company, it’s a diversified industrial manufacturer. And I remember, as I wrapped up that internship, I thought, “You know what? This was pretty cool in terms of I learned some things, my brain got tickled and challenged a little bit, there were some great people I enjoyed sort of seeing regularly, and I got home at a decent hour. And, yeah, option was there to return.”

But I remember walking away, thinking, “You know, I think that this company could provide me a satisfying stable kind of a career,” but I really wanted a thrilling one. And so, I went with strategy consulting after graduation. And then after some years of that, I thought, “You know what? I want more autonomy. And I want maybe in-between 40 hours and 65 hours, somewhere in that zone would probably be better at that phase.”

And so, it definitely connects that both of those opportunities were great, and it’s just about seeing what’s the best fit for you and life, and what’s going on.

Art Markman
And it can change over time as well. Later in the book, I talk a little bit about another guy who, early on, was focused on developing that career and having that very stable career, but also one that had a certain amount of achievement in it. Then, in the middle of his career, his wife got sick, and he needed to really back off and put his value on his family and on taking care of his wife and his kids.

And then, later in his career, after he went back to work, after she got healthy again, and had some success, and engaged those values again, and then decided he wanted to really help others, and actually left the practice of law and ended up running a non-profit for a while. And so, you get these shifts over time sometimes as a result of life circumstances, and sometimes just as a result of changes in perspective as you see more things in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, we’ve already kind of gotten into some of the meat of it, but maybe to zoom out for a moment, what would you say is kind of the main thesis or big idea behind this book you got here, “Bring Your Brain to Work”?

Art Markman
Yeah, so the idea is that if you think about your career, which is bigger than any individual job, it’s that collection of things that you truly contribute as a result of the work that you do, and has this cycle of looking for a job and getting it, then succeeding at it while you’ve got it, and then considering whether to move on or move up. That that cycle can be really informed, no matter where you are in your career, can be informed by understanding more about your mind and the minds of other people.

And that this is stuff that we don’t really ever learn in class. And most people, when they hit mid-career, realize that very little of what allowed them to succeed at work was something that they learned in a class in school. And so, part of what I’m trying to do in the book is to bring more of the research around cognitive science to help people to learn some of those things that are critical for career success that they probably didn’t get in a class.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, excellent. Well, thank you. We appreciate that effort in the world. And so, let’s dig into some of the stuff then. We talked a bit about zeroing in on what you value and figuring out how a job might align to that. But you’ve also got some pro tips in terms of acquiring the job using cognitive science insights. Like in the midst of an interview, how do you figure out kind of where the interviewer’s head is at, and what they might love?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, one of the things that fascinate me about interviews is a lot of people walk into that interview focused almost exclusively on, “I have to impress the interviewer. I need this job, and I want them to think great thoughts about me at the end.” And, of course, that’s not irrelevant. You want to go into the interview well-prepared so that you’re able to really talk authoritatively about yourself and about the way that you would fit with the company, which means you need to know something about the company.

But what a lot of people don’t do effectively is to realize how much they can learn about the organization that they’re interviewing with as a result of that interview process. So, if you get totally stumped on a question, you might think to yourself, “Well, that’s it. I’ve screwed this up completely.” But, actually, it gives you this opportunity to engage in a conversation with the interviewer and to get a real sense of, “Is this a company that actually wants to support me, that wants me to learn, that wants me to help, to think the way that they think?”

And to the extent that the interviewer actually digs in and works with you to walk your way through an interview question, they may be telling you something about their willingness to help to mentor you and to train you, and for you to understand that this is a company that doesn’t necessarily think you need to be fully formed on day one in order to succeed. On the other hand, if the company just brushes you off for not knowing the answer to a question, then, well, their communicating something completely different, right?

And so, you should be paying attention to that from the beginning to really understand, “What am I learning about this organization?” through the interview process, frankly, through the negotiation process as well, where they’re communicating a lot about what they value in the way that they treat you when you are trying to negotiate salary and benefits and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s a great point there, is to, first of all, to broaden my question a bit. It’s not just about impress, impress, impress. It’s a two-way street. You’re picking up intelligence on their side, like, “Is this a good fit? Do you like the way they work it?” But then back to the wowing side of things, when you are putting half of the attention on that side of the equation, what are some things that do some of the wowing or help you sense what they’re really feeling?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the fascinating things about the interview is, more than anything else, companies are trying to figure out whether they want to work with you, because they’ve already brought you in, which means they’ve looked at your materials, they feel like you have potential qualifications for the job. And so, now, they’re trying to envision how you fit in.

And so, part of what you want to do is to really engage. So, yes, you need to be prepared but, at some point, you need to really have a conversation. Give those interviewers a chance to have a sense of what it would be like to have you as a colleague. But to do it by putting that best foot forward, every once in a while, you think to yourself, “Well, do I really have to put on an act for them? Do I have to be really my best self?” And the answer is yes. You don’t want necessarily need to show every single quirk in the interview. Right, exactly. Those things that people will find charming eventually. Maybe get them to learn to love you first.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got plenty of quirks, Art, that’s why I’m laughing over here.

Art Markman
And so do I, right? And it’s fine. I think quirks are part of what makes us interesting in the long run. But in the short term, you want to put that best foot forward. And I think, really, believe in what’s called the halo effect. So, the better the first impression that someone gets of you, the more charitably that they interpret every other thing that you do, because every behavior that you exhibit in the world is ambiguous, right?

Are you brash and arrogant? Or are you confident and assertive, right? Well, those could manifest themselves with almost identical behaviors. But if I like you already, I’m going to think of you as confident. And if I don’t like you from the beginning, I’m going to think that you are kind of an arrogant jerk. And so, you really want to come out initially with creating the best possible impressions socially that you can in order to get people to feel like you’d be somebody that they really want to work with.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in terms of some of the details for how that’s done, I imagine there are some basic fundamentals, like smile, make eye contact, engage, listen, shower.

Art Markman
Shower is good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Put on some clothes that aren’t stained and wrinkled. But are there any sort of like cognitive science secrets that are some huge do’s or don’ts when it comes to making a great impression?

Art Markman
Yeah, one of them is it’s not just smile. It’s, bring the amount of energy and enthusiasm that you want that person to feel later. So, one of the things we know about conversation is that people tune to each other, even down to the level of the pitch of your voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Art Markman
Yeah, absolutely. Really, yes, they do. And if people are laughing, right, or smiling, then if one person is doing it, the other person is doing it. They will even mimic facial expressions, and if one person crosses their arms, eventually the other one is going to do it.

And so, if you’re trying to generate energy and enthusiasm, because that will ultimately be interpreted by the interviewer as enjoyment. The fact is that the higher your degree of energy, the more invested you are motivationally in something.

And so, if you come in really flat, then you’re going to get a flat evaluation later because the interviewer is going to mimic your flatness, and you’re going to end up just it’s going to be a mediocre evaluation at the end. But if you come in with energy and enthusiasm, you will create energy. And that energy actually now feeds back into the evaluation that you get.

So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so, you need to bring the energy that you want the interviewer to have, particularly because many times you’re working with somebody who may be a recruiter, or a hiring manager, who might be doing 15 interviews. And so, if you don’t bring it, well, they don’t need it, right? They’re doing a ton of these all day. So, you’ve got to make sure that you create the atmosphere that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, Art, I think that I am one of those people, I don’t know how if I’m in the majority or the minority here, that could overdo it with regard to the energy, like, “Whoa, that’s a little too much. Like, are you, I don’t know, a clown, or a motivational speaker?” Like, how do we think about when is it too much?

Art Markman
Well, honestly, I don’t think that the energy level can be too much. But I do think that you have to be careful when you’re energetic to still stay on topic. So, one of the things that a high level of energy can do is to allow you to overcome your filter, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, certainly.

Art Markman
One of the things that we know motivationally is that we have in our motivational system what you can think of as a go system that drives you to do things, and then a stop system that gets you to inhibit things that your go system says you should do that on sober reflection might not be such a good idea. And the more that you overload that go system, which is something you can do when you give yourself a tremendous amount of energy, the more you can override the breaks which can potentially cause you to say something that you probably shouldn’t have said in an interview.

And so, the danger with too much energy is not so much the impact that it’s likely to have on the interviewer, so much as the likelihood that it’s going to cause you to do or say something that probably was not a great idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good thought there, certainly. So, I imagine, so long as you’re keeping like your volume and gestures like within a normal reasonable human dimension, and you’re not just disclosing crazy things. I heard a story of a person who interviewed someone who said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He said, “Not well.” And then he went on to share quite the story of how his girlfriend threw him out of their apartment, and his clothes were thrown out of the window, and he was trying to figure out a place to, I don’t know, get a suit cleaned or something in the middle of the night. And he was like, “Okay, this is uncomfortable now.”

Art Markman
Right. I think the correct answer there would’ve been, “Fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Exactly. Okay. So, that’s handy. So, great energy but not so much that you      are doing unwise things and short-circuiting the stop system there. Well, now, let’s say you got the job, and you want to apply some of these cognitive science insights to, let’s say, communicate, collaborate, interact with your colleagues and clients better. What are some of your favorite do’s and don’ts there?

Art Markman
Yeah, so one of the things to watch out for in the modern environment is that we do so much discussion with our colleagues that is mediated by text, whether it’s email, or instant messages, or Slack, or any one of these ways of communicating just through the words alone being sent through the ether.

And the problem is, human communication is really optimized because of our evolutionary history for a small number of people interacting face to face in real time. And the further away that we get from that ideal, the harder it is for us to communicate effectively with our colleagues. And that means that if you’re going to do most of your communication with your colleagues via text, you need to go out of your way to create a certain amount of facetime with them in order to establish a relationship so that they can read the tone of what you say more effectively.

Because if I need your help with something, and I poked my head into your office, or over your cubicle wall, or whatever it is, and I say, “Listen, man, would it be all right, could you possibly make some copies for me right now? I’m running late, I’d really appreciate it.” You can make a request of someone that imposes on their time and still demonstrates to them through the words that you use and your tone of voice and the look on your face that you understand what a big imposition it is, and that you deeply appreciate what they’re doing.

When you say the same thing over text, it comes across as cold and as demanding. And so, unless they can hear your voice in their head, then you’re actually going to end up sabotaging some number of your relationships just because of the overuse of this kind of text. So, we have to find ways to create that kind of facetime.

And, as it turns out, that is often more efficient because things that can take you 10 minutes going back and forth by email or instant message, can actually often be resolved in about four seconds of real conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love what you had to say there with regard to give them lots of experiences of the facetime, and then they can imagine in their own mind’s eye and ear what your facial expressions are looking like and what your voice is sounding like. This reminds me when I was consulting. We had this client and we kept getting these emails back. We asked about, “Hey, we want some data like this.” And then the client sent back some things. And we’re like, “Oh, actually, hey, thank you. But we’d really kind of want it like this.”

And then she sent something back and had some red-letters in it, like, “Oh, man, she’s angry.” And then we thought, “Why don’t we just pay her a visit?” And it was like, “Hey, what’s going on? We really appreciate you taking the time to help us, think through it, share these things. We’re trying to accomplish this and it’d be really awesome if it’s possible to do that.” She’s like, “Oh, yes, absolutely. Certainly, I can get that to you this afternoon.” Just like the sweetest thing.

Art Markman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And like, “Oh, thank you.” And then it’s like it just sort of reinterpreted every email that we were like sweating over. It’s like, “Oh, I guess maybe red is just a clear means of delineating and separating that text from the original email text in black or blue, as opposed to, “I’m furious at you.” And it was quite the lesson. Yeah, eyes opened.

Art Markman
Yeah, and we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that. We think, somehow, it’s easier to be doing everything mediated by text. So, I really think that making sure that you create that relationship, I think, is just critical for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had Dr. Nick Morgan, a famed communications consultant, on the show earlier. He said one great phrase used often in like a phone call or sort of less rich exchange is, “How do you feel about what I’ve just said?” You know, just to get real explicit, like it may not have been conveyed so let’s figure it out. It seemed pretty brilliant to me.

Art Markman
Oh, yeah. And if I could add to that, one of the places where it’s really brilliant in the modern environment is when you’re dealing with people who have a different cultural background than you do. So, we live in a world in which we may not just be working with people in another state, but they might be halfway around the world. And there are big cultural differences in what people will generally say to each other and what kinds of things they give voice to.

And sometimes you just need to be really explicit with people, including, “I need to know exactly what you think of this,” and to summarize your interpretation of a conversation just to make sure that you actually really are on the same page. Where, if you were talking to somebody you’d known for years or grew up in exactly the same culture, you might share more of the biases and the way you think about things that would allow you to communicate effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Even just the words, phrases, idioms. I was working with someone in the Philippines, and she says, “Hey, can we meet up at this time?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure thing.” And she emailed back, “Thanks for giving me the time of day.” I was like, “Oh, dang, I know. I know I’ve been absent. I’ve got a new baby. I’m really sorry. I mean to be more there, and available, and guiding, and developing, and coaching.” I’m really stewing it. She’s like, “Oh, no, I just meant thank you for that time.” “Yeah, oh, okay.”

Art Markman
Oh, yeah, “I do not think this means what you think it means,” yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Art Markman
Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, handy communication tips. And how about for just productivity, getting the job done, motivation, distraction avoidance, what are your cognitive science insights there?

Art Markman
Well, so one of the things that I think is really important is to recognize that the best way to motivate yourself is to create a gap between where you are right now and where you’d like to be in the future, that that gap is what creates energy. And I think it’s really important for people to recognize that there are days when they feel somewhat unmotivated. And part of that lack of motivation is that they’re just not dissatisfied enough with the way things are right now. And that you can actually, by focusing on how the world could be better, you can actually create that kind of energy and get yourself to stick with something.

But another piece to this that’s really important is you got to learn about what the Yearkes-Dodson curve. And I love the fact that these two guys, Yearkes and Dodson, wrote a paper in 1905 that is still relevant today. And the idea behind the Yearkes-Dodson curve is that the more energy you give to a particular goal, the better your performance up to a point. And you hit a sweet spot where you have the right level of energy, or what psychologists call arousal. And that when you’re in that sweet spot, you work really effectively.

But if you get hyper aroused, or you get more and more arousal, say, the deadline is creeping ever closer, then you may find yourself slipping over the edge of this Yearkes-Dodson curve, where now additional energy actually lowers your performance because you have so much energy you can’t think straight, you’re pacing, you’re panicking.

And so, what everyone needs to learn is, “Where is my sweet spot?” because that’s what helps us to figure out, “Will I get stuff done ahead of time? Do I need to have a small thermonuclear device detonated beneath my chair before I can get anything done?” And figure out where that sweet spot is and learn to live there with your project so that you find the right level of engagement and arousal to allow you to work consistently without getting so over-aroused that you find yourself unable to make progress on important things.

Pete Mockaitis
And you know that’s interesting as you talk about the curve, and I’m imagining, “Okay, X and Y axis here, and we got more and more energy, that’s good.” And then I guess you have two much energy, it’s bad in the sense you’re panicking and, I don’t know. I guess, we had Tony Schwartz on the show earlier. We talked about energy stuff, and it almost sounds like more energy there is equating to anxiety and panic, but I guess you just call that negative, high energy but a negative type of energy. Can you have too much what he might call high positive energy in terms of, “I’m really, really, really excited about this?” Can you be too much of that?

Art Markman
Yup, you absolutely can, because even with too much positive energy, you end up pacing, right? That energy creates actual energy for you that needs to dissipate. And if you’re sitting there trying to work at your desk, and you have much bubbling positive energy that you need to pace around, you’re not being particularly productive in that moment.

And so, you find sometimes people so excited about something that they need to get up, walk around, get it out of themselves so that they can calm down and actually get work done, even when that energy is really positive.

I know, over the course of my career, I’ve had times where I felt like I had just figured something out, and in that moment when I figured it out, I couldn’t write it. I had to like quickly say it into a recorder or something, and then walk around for a while, like calm down, and then I was in a place where I could actually write about it. So, yeah, it’s overall energy level, even if it’s positive.

So, panic, obviously, it can be negative energy, but just being hyper-aroused in general creates terrible performance. And you can even see this in athletes, right? When they’re so jazzed up about something that they actually can’t coordinate their motions.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, with the Yearkes-Dodson curve then, is that kind of like different activities or tasks that have different curves where some things are better-suited to lower energy states and others high energy states?

Art Markman
You know, it seems to be that everyone has got a sweet spot, and that sweet spot seems to be pretty similar across tasks but different people will differ in their resting levels of arousal. So, some people are naturally very high arousal people, and so they are the ones who’d start a project six weeks before it’s due. And then there are the people who are very low arousal, who really need to have a cattle prod taken to them before they start getting anything done.

And what’s really tough is when you have a high-arousal person working with a low-arousal person, because a high-arousal person gets a whole bunch of stuff done ahead of time, and then they hand it off to the other person who does nothing with it till the last moment, sends that back to the other person 10 minutes before it needs to be submitted. And that person is a pool of jello on the floor at that point because they’re just so over-aroused by the deadline. So, you have to find ways for people to work effectively together when they have different resting levels of arousal.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any pro tips in terms of you would like to amp up or amp down your arousal in a given moment for a task at hand? How might you do that?

Art Markman
So, to amp it up, one of the things that’s useful is to create things like false deadlines for yourself, and to do things that really say, “There’s a reason why this has to get done right now,” or, really amp up your sense of how important this is to get right.

When you’re trying, though, to calm yourself down, it really is doing the kinds of things that help you to dissipate energy, which could be going out for a walk, or it could be deep breathing exercises, right, because those are the kinds of things that will actually calm you down. And, really, what you’re doing is trying to create some sense of distance between yourself and the goal that you’re engaged with so that it feels mentally further away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I want to talk about that next is that point you made about creating a gap between where you are and where you want to be. How is that done in practice? I imagine it boils down to, you know, how you set a goal, and maybe some of this is visualization stuff, it really is worthwhile. How do you think about creating that gap and that energy?

Art Markman
Yeah, so there’s a lot of really nice work in psychology, some of it done by Gabriele Oettingen that talks about, essentially, the role of creating fantasies, and not in the kind of parlance that we often think about, “Oh, I’m fantasizing about this.” But, really, in the sense of creating that vision of the future, of, “Here’s what I could accomplish.” Or, frankly, sometimes, “Here’s what will go wrong if nobody does anything.”

And to really elaborate on that mentally, to think about how much better or worse the world could be, and then to explicitly contrast that with the present. So, you develop this vision of the future, and then you compare it to where you are right now. And it is that act of creating that contrast that actually generates that sense of the gap and that energy that comes along with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Could you maybe walk us through an example there?

Art Markman
Yeah. So, for example, think about supposed you’ve kind of stagnated in your job, but you can’t really motivate yourself to go look for another one, right? Now, so what could you do? Well, one of the things you could do is to begin to think about, “Well, let me imagine a little bit more about what my ideal job would be. What are some of the tasks that I would be doing in my day-to-day life that I’m not currently able to do?” and to really envision that clearly, and then contrast that with the job I have right now, and to really begin to compare that, say, “Whoa, here are all the ways in which my current job is not ideal.”

And what that does is it generates dissatisfaction. And that dissatisfaction is motivating. So, it turns out that when you’re utterly satisfied in life, what you tend to do is fall asleep. And so, you have to generate a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to be motivated to do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you overdo it in terms of like you’re suddenly zapped of gratitude and bitter and anxious about how crappy everything is right now?

Art Markman
Well, you can overdo it but mostly the way that you overdo it is by creating gaps that are not bridgeable. So, I’m a big believer in what I call the bridgeable gap which means not only do you need a sense of the gap between present and future. You need to believe that there is a plan, a set of actions that you’re capable of performing that will get you from here to there.

And as long as you feel like you’re on a path that will help you to narrow the gap, then focusing on that gap is not a bad thing because you have agency. You believe that you are the author of your future. But when you believe that there’s no path from the present to the future, well, then, creating that gap creates that sense of bitterness and resentment because now you feel like, “Well, I’m stuck here. I have no control over the circumstance.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Art, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Art Markman
You know what? Let’s take it where you want to go. Oh, I will say one thing, which is one of my favorite things that I got to do in the book, because I play the saxophone, I added a bunch of sections in the book that I called “The Jazz Brain,” which is basically focused on that ability you have to improvise. And I think it’s really important for people to understand that in order to improvise effectively, you need to know a lot.

I think a lot of times people feel like, “No, no, there’s the curse of knowledge. If I know too much I’m going to be constrained.” But the people I know in any field, whether it’s music or anything else, the people who are best able to adapt to a circumstance on the fly are actually the ones who know a ton of stuff, but are willing to apply lots of different knowledge to a situation.

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

Art Markman
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, and that’s the place where he strung up lightbulbs. His lab was actually not in Edison or what became Edison. But Edison once said that, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” And while we could probably quibble about the percentages a little bit, I think there’s something important about this idea that a lot of our success is about the work we do.

Yeah, some people are more talented in something than somebody else is, but most of the difference in performance between people comes down to doing the right kind of work. And the reason that I’ve spent so much time in my life over the last 15 years, really trying to bring more cognitive science to other people is because I believe that the more you understand about minds, the more you can put in the right kind of work that can help you to be successful into things you want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite study or piece of research?

Art Markman
Let’s see, one of my favorite pieces of research that I talk about a lot comes from a buddy of mine named Frank Keil at Yale. He and one of his students, Leonid Rozebilt, did this set of studies on what’s called the illusion of explanatory depth, which is this idea that you believe you understand the world better than you actually understand the world. And so, they did this by having people describe various household devices that they thought they completely understood, and only to have people discover that there were significant gaps in their understanding about the way the world works.

And it turns out that this kind of knowledge about the way the way the world works, what psychologists a causal knowledge, is the stuff that allows you to do new things in new ways. And so, when you lack that knowledge, then all you can do is execute procedures in your work. You can’t really try a new thing. And if you’re unaware of what you don’t know, then it means you can’t work to improve the quality of your knowledge. So, I really find that study to have a profound impact on the way people should treat their knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Art Markman
Gosh, I love books, and there’s so many. But, lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about small towns of different kinds. I’m just fascinated by it. I grew up, I’m an urban kid, born and raised, and I’m living in Austin, Texas right now. It’s a beautiful city. But, lately, I’ve been reading books like Our Towns, and Hillbilly Elegy, and things like that, just trying to wrap my head around what it’s like to grow up in a place very different than the one that I grew up in.

And I think that’s important, right? I think so much of the way we understand the world is by filtering it through our own experience, that it’s really important to find people who’ve characterized the world that’s different from the one that you grew up in, and whether it’s different within the country you grew up, or outside of it, as a way of helping you to recognize that not everything that you do is a human universal.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Art Markman
Gosh, I love word processors. And it’s a funny thing, right? I think we don’t appreciate some of the simple tools that are in front of us. But if my 7th grade teacher knew that I wrote for a living, I think she’d be in hysterics because of how much I hated writing as a kid.

But just having that ability to put stuff down, and then edit it easily, is such an important thing. I think very few people value the editing process enough. And having just a tool, whatever your word processor is, to have that in front of you to be able to edit is such an amazing thing. Because most of us look at good writing, and we think, “Wow, I could never write like that.” And what we really mean is, “I could never write like that the first time that something comes out.”

And what we don’t realize is nobody writes well when something just pops out of them. What you’re seeing is the result of getting something out, crafting it, polishing it, re-arranging it, deleting, starting over, and then you only get to see the final product. So, yeah, to me, it’s just what we’re able to do with a simple word processor is just, to me, absolutely amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Art Markman
Favorite habit in the workplace. It would have to be that when I come into work, I triage my email. I answer the three emails that absolutely have to be answered, and then I shut my email off for a half hour and do something else that matters. Because I do believe that people take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, but I don’t think anyone looks back over the last year, and says, “The most important thing I did was to send these 18,471 emails.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and students?

Art Markman
Obviously, I think a lot of things are a matter of personal taste. But I think this recognition that we have a go system that drives us to act, and then a fallible stop system that prevents us from doing things effectively, because we are not good at stopping something that that go system has engaged. And that when you want to be productive, your job in life is to reprogram that go system towards habits whose accumulated impact will create the contribution you want.

To me, understanding that and living your life knowing that the best way to be effective is to reprogram that go system, is something that I think when people internalize, that changes the way that they go about their work.

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

Art Markman
So, you can find me pretty easily on social media. I love to have people finding the stuff that I write. I try to give away as much as I can. So, I write for Psychology Today, for Fast Company, for Harvard Business Review. I certainly would love for people to pick up my books. But you can find out all of the stuff that I’m writing on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have an author page on Facebook. I have a website smartthinkingbook.com that has information about all of my books, and I also post a few blog entries and things up there. So, all of those are places where people can find me.

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

Art Markman
Yeah, I think that the most important thing that you can do is to recognize that it is always about what you’re going to learn next, that no one is completely ready for the job that they have. And as I said to my oldest son when he was first going out on the job market, I said, “If you’re completely prepared for the job you applied for, you aimed too low.”

And so, we should think about our work lives as a constant opportunity for growth and challenge. And that when you do that, when you look for the next thing that you can learn, then it continues to open up new worlds and new possibilities. Because, as I say at the very end of the book, bumper sticker wisdom tells us that no one on their deathbed says that they wish that they’d spent another day at the office.

But, honestly, the people I know who look back on their careers with fondness are the ones who feel like they’ve really accomplished something over the course of their years, and they are justifiably proud of the work that they did.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for that. That’s nice. Nice thought. Nice final words. Art, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you and the book “Bring Your Brain to Work” lots of luck and keep on doing the good stuff.

Art Markman
Well, thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure talking with you today.