Monday, May 17, 2010

The Five Stories Every Job Hunter Must Be Ready to Tell

I've written before about a critical skill that job hunters must hone: the ability to convey their past accomplishments via well-crafted PAR* stories, where PAR stands for Problem-Action-Result.

But in today's "jobless recovery," this skill is taking on a greater significance. Many job hunters are getting little to no response from employers. They are starting to suspect that the jobs they once held may not ever be coming back. The realization that they need to reinvent themselves is slowly starting to dawn on them.

If this sounds like your predicament, then heed this: More than ever before, you must be ready and able to convey your Value Proposition, the reason why they should hire You! The power of a story can go far beyond recounting a past event to illustrate your achievements. A well-told story also demonstrates your practical wisdom and reveals the essence of the storyteller.

To "wow" the next interviewer that invites you into their organization, consider these Five Stories Every Job Hunter Must Be Ready To Tell.

1. The Idea - Every one of has a "bright idea" now and then. This story tells about a time when you had an idea, maybe a solution to a dilemma your team was facing, and how you presented the idea to others to gain their support. Were you successful? Did they resist your idea? Were you able to overcome their objections? Even if the story ends with the idea being shot down (Hey, that's life on the Idea Food Chain sometimes), this story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as imagination, patience, persistence, communication, and selling skills.

2. The Ordeal - Every one of us suffers through an ordeal at one time or another. A difficult and possibly painful (even if only psychically so) time of stress. This story tells about a time when you, and perhaps others on your team, had to suffer through a prolonged trial, such as the uncertainty that comes with an impending acquisition by another organization. What did you do to help yourself, and others, through this trying time? This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as optimism, hope, fortitude, and solidarity with others.

3. The Transition - Every one of us has had to adapt to a change. Maybe there was a merger and you found yourself working for a new employer, adjusting to a whole new organizational culture. Did you rise to the occasion? Did you seize the opportunity? Did you learn as fast as you could? Did you prove yourself to the new regime? This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as adaptability, flexibility, customer-focus, results-focus, organizational savvy, and learning.

4. The Setback - Every one of us has been knocked down. Maybe it was a minor setback such as enduring a budget cut. For many others, it may have been a major setback such as a termination. Did you stay down? Or did you get up, get creative, get moving, and galvanize into action? This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as belief in oneself, courage, resolve, creativity, and resilience.

5. The Team - Every one of us has been part of a team at one time or another. Though you may not have been the team leader, it may have occurred to you that there is no "I" in TEAM. That it takes everyone to succeed. When you realized that you shared responsibility for the leadership, and for the ultimate success of the team, you broke through (whether you knew it or not) to the essential meaning of leadership. This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as teamwork, taking responsibility, following, and leading.

So the next time an interviewer says "Tell me about yourself," you will be ready.

*Don't like PAR? How about CAR stories: Challenge-Action-Results. Or SOAR stories: Situation-Obstacle/Opportunity-Action-Result.

This post written by Terrence Seamon. For more tips on job search, careers, and storytelling, contact Terry. Visit his website and invite him to speak to your organization.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 18, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Hero's Journey

The other day, in the midst of a discussion on the main list of the OD Network, an aphorism occurred to me:

~ Action learning is the crucible of transformation.

I immediately liked it, but wondered if I could explain (or defend) it should someone ask. So far, no one has. Maybe it sailed right past everyone, an idea ahead of its time?

Today, in the same evolving online discussion, I mentioned that, in the hero's journey, the hero often returns home, only to realize that his journey was a search for himself. When one of the other members asked for clarification, I added the following summation of the late great Joseph Campbell's famous concept.

Campbell, whose cross-cultural studies of world mythologies led him to formulate The Hero's Journey, framed the myth in three stages:

1. The Call to Adventure - Something happens (or someone arrives, like Gandalf knocking on Bilbo Baggins' door in Tolkien's great fantasy book The Hobbit) that causes a Separation, a departure, where the Hero leaves the comfort of home, and embarks upon a Search or Mission of some sort.

2. The Adventures - Like Dorothy Gale blown away from Kansas by a tornado into the fabulous Land of Oz, the Hero experiences strange and wonderful adventures, often including Escapes, Trials, Meetings, and Initiations, all of which have the effect of changing the Hero in some way.

3. The Return - Finally, after the Search is concluded, or the Mission fulfilled, it is time to go home. So the Hero faces a choice: to make his way back home, or to go elsewhere.

Quite often in many versions of the Hero's Journey, the Hero goes home, but finds that the home he had left, and the home he comes back to, are very different places (for example, consider Frodo's return to the Shire in Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings. What had once been an Eden-like refuge, had been spoiled, corrupted under the influence of the evil fugitive wizard Saruman. Because of Frodo's transformation in his journey, he and the other members of the Fellowship, were able to "scour" the Shire, cleansing it and restoring it.)

Mythologist Campbell was interested in how these ancient patterns play out in our lives. What is the Call about? And the Adventures? What does the Hero find when he or she Returns home?

I would say that...

- The Call is about the need to change
- The Adventures are the learning experiences that Life offers us, transforming us if we learn the lessons
- The Return is about the discovery of Who We Are, Why We Are Here, and What We Are Meant to Do with the talents we possess, in this Life

All of us undergo some variant of the Hero's Journey.

Along the way we meet facilitators, people who are there to help us learn life lessons that advance us toward our purpose.

So back to my aphorism:
~ Action learning is the crucible of transformation.

Hmmm. Maybe the way to end this blog posting is to say: On the hero's journey, sometimes you are Luke Skywalker. Sometimes you are Obi Wan Kenobi.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 16, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wow Them!

Want to wow the next employer you interview with? Here are the three secrets you need to know . . . and do.

My son Dave landed an internship today. Before he headed off to the train, he asked me for interview tips.

Since he didn't have much time, I quickly said:

1. Have a good story - Ask yourself, Why did they invite you in for an interview? There must be something in your letter, your resume or your work samples that caught their attention, that hooked their interest. They want to meet you! What is it that you need to tell them about the value you can bring to their party?

2. Be energized - If you have a good story to tell about what makes you different, and why they should hire you, you are going to be fired up. You will have a light shining out of your eyes and your smile that will light up the room when you are there.

3. Know the company - Have you done your homework? Do you know something about the organization? Something about the interviewer, especially if she is the decision maker?

It comes down to presence. It sounds mystical. And maybe it is. But it's all about how you show up.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 13, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reinventing Yourself

This past Saturday, the guest speaker at the St. Matthias Employment Ministry was my friend Donna Coulson. Consultant, coach, and job search expert, Donna's topic was "Reinventing Yourself for Today's New Job Market."

While I have written about reinvention before, Donna brought a fresh perspective and some challenging ideas, including:

You are CEO of You!: Know what’s needed in today's market. Where are your skills in demand? The job you had may not be coming back! Be a Trend Tracker—what’s needed in the marketplace from your Tool Kit and Skill Set?

Know Your Value: Know how you Stand Out from the Crowd. There are 400 people for every Corporate job opening now, not 50. Figure out what’s Unique about you and determine your main focus. Know how to be of Value and Service in a Different way. Ask. Observe. So, do you use existing management or technical skills in a totally new way or different environment? What industries need your expertise?

Develop Advocates and Mentors: Donna dispelled a common myth by saying: It's not "What You Know" or "Who You Know" that really counts the most. Rather, it's Who Knows That You Know. In other words, who knows your capabilities who can advocate for you? The people who count the most are those who can advocate or mentor you now, and open doors for you to opportunity. “People hire who they know or who are referrals by a trusted colleague or friend.” (sez Donna) Get known by a wider range of people in and out of your field.

Presence: Donna says: If you are very young or much older, you need to impress people IN PERSON. They’ll ditch your resume if they think you’re too light or too heavy with experience. It’s all about assumptions: Too young to know anything, too old to learn new technology tricks. Bash the stereotype by impressing them with your "executive appearance," and your knowledge. When you get in front of the employer, Listen to their pain and show how you can resolve issues or challenges.

And one more that is so important:

Constant Learning - Donna says: If you are considering whether a COMPLETE CAREER CHANGEOVER is right for you, consider the following. Any major change involves RE-education, RE-tooling skills, NEW faces, NEW networks, NEW skills needed and NEW colleagues. While all of that is exciting, it's also a pretty demanding way to go. Find some people who are already doing the career you are thinking of and ask them: How long are the learning requirements and your learning curve? What phase of life are you in?

For more wisdom from Donna, you can follow her in the where she is writing a column on career issues.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 10, 2010

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Ya Gotta Believe!"

The other day, I was invited to become a Thought Leader at HR Blog Notions. Here is my first posting, called:

"Ya Gotta Believe"

There’s a lot written about leaders these days. Sometimes I think it’s all been said. But then I remember that everyone has something to say, even me.

A few weeks back, I was sitting in church, listening to Father Sean’s Easter sermon. He was preaching up a storm about how important it is for people to believe. Being a native New Yorker from Queens, he even wove in the story of the NY Mets baseball team, retelling the great season where the slogan “Ya Gotta Believe” was born. The assembled parishioners gave him a standing ovation when he finished!

So what’s the connection to leadership? In a nutshell, leaders have to believe in themselves . . . and in their people.

When a leader believes in himself, he has confidence. He knows his capabilities. He knows his limits too. And he is humble enough to know that he needs to learn . . . and he needs others. As the saying goes, “There is no “I” in TEAM.”

When a leader believes in his people, he values them. He listens to them. By listening to them, he learns from them. And often, he will get great ideas from them.

A positive chain reaction is set in motion when leaders believe: Confidence. Humility. Listening. Learning. Breakthroughs! Other effects include: Teamwork. Trust. Engagement.

After many years of training managers on the skills that effective leaders need, I’m coming to the conclusion that this core element, believing, is critical. And when it’s shaky, or missing, there will be problems.

Tip for Managers: Take a good honest look in the mirror and ask yourself: Do I believe in myself and my team?


Visit HR Blog Notions regularly for more interesting articles by folks like Jim Stroud, David Zinger and Mike VanDervort.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 7, 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Training That Soars

Working with a client recently, he asked me to describe my process for developing the customized training he had hired me to deliver.

Situation/Strategy - Start with an assessment of the situation. Why the need for training? Consider the strategy: Where is the organization going?

Objectives/Obstacles/Opportunities - What should the training accomplish? How will it help the trainees overcome obstacles? Seize opportunities?

Audience - Consider the trainees. What do they know? What is their current performance? What are they struggling with?

Results - Start with the end in mind by thinking up-front about the business results you want to achieve.

With the SOAR model, your training will be a success.

Posted By Terrence Seamon, May 4, 2010

Monday, May 03, 2010


Thanks to twitter*, I learned a new word today: kata.

According to wikipedia, kata is a Japanese term for patterns of movements used in practice of martial arts. But, culturally, it has a deeper meaning:

"A kata can refer to any basic form, routine, or pattern of behavior that is practiced to various levels of mastery. In Japanese language, kata is a frequently-used word meaning “way of doing things,” with emphasis on the form and order of the process. Other meanings are “training method” and “formal exercise.” The goal of a painter’s practicing, for example, is to merge his consciousness with his brush; the potter’s with his clay; the gardener’s with the materials of the garden."

The tweet that led me to kata actually pointed to Mike Rother, a professor at the University of Michigan, who has been studying the kata at Toyota. In Rother's view, the Toyota kata is one of the car maker's secrets of success:

"Kata is a routine that, when practiced repeatedly, develops a reflexive, unconscious mindset. Mindset is a habitual way of thinking and feeling, learned via successes and failures, that determines how a person interprets and responds to situations. Here is the key point for leaders: Mindset is what produces the organizational culture..."

Such a culture, one of "continuous improvement, adaptiveness and innovation," built upon an improvement kata and an organizational learning kata, is what leads to success.

Embedded in Toyota's kata is coaching. Rother says that coaching is part of the teaching cycle that reinforces a kata: "The improvement kata can be learned by almost anyone, through repeated application (practice) and periodic guidance from a coach. Practicing should be done under periodic observation of an experienced coach, just as in sports. Without coaching input we can lose our way, practicing and practicing but not practicing the desired kata, or doing it incorrectly. Without coaching, a change in the learner's mindset is unlikely to happen."

*Now a footnote about twitter. Many have asked me, "What is twitter good for?" After trying twitter for several months, I honestly have a hard time describing what it is...and what it's good for. Except when I find nuggets like the above, where someone mentions something (or somebody like Rother) that sets me off on a side-trip of discovery.

So I guess that's what twitter is good for.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 3, 2010

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Training Within Industry

I made an interesting discovery the other day, while following a link about Lean, that opened up a chapter in the history of well as coaching and consulting.

As the United States entered the Second World War, it became apparent to the federal government that there was an urgent need to rapidly train thousands of men in industries related to the war effort. Thus was born the Training Within Industry Service (or TWI, for short), a training consulting agency that developed and delivered training methodologies to war-critical companies.

Over the war-years of 1941 to 1945, TWI evolved methods for job skills training, job improvement training, and job relations training (known as the "J" programs). By the end of the war, over one million workers had gone through the "J" programs. Then, with the end of the war, TWI was dissolved as a US government department. However, TWI was reborn during the rebuilding of Europe and Japan. And in the latter case, led directly to the concepts of kaizen and lean.

In his paper on the roots of lean, Jim Huntzinger points out that, as part of the Job Relations course, coaching was taught to supervisors:

~ "Coaching only means helping someone to do a better job of what he's trying to do."

And this, Huntzinger points out, derived from Charles Allen's 1919(!) book on teaching supervisors to do job training.

Huntzinger also recounts an important lesson that the TWI consultants made about what made the J programs most effective: management buy-in and support. Huntzinger writes: "Anyone who has worked to implement lean manufacturing understands that to be successful, the absolute support of management is necessary. It has always been necessary for any major change. During the days of TWI, before any training took place, upper management support for it had to be forthright."

If top management, and business unit management, did not sign off and commit to support the training, the TWI consultants packed up and left.

As a Training & Organization Development consultant since the late 1970's, this discovery of the TWI chapter was like the feeling you get when you find a record of a previously unknown ancestor at Ellis Island. It feels so right. And it causes other pieces to fall into place.

I've been doing this work for over 25 years. And now, with the awareness of this chapter of American history, I feel confirmed and reinforced, strengthened in the knowledge that the principles and skills that I have been using align quite well with those of the TWI effort.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 1, 2010