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2BDetermined Inc. is a career management firm that helps professionals and executives identify and achieve their career goals via targeted coaching services.

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2BDetermined is a career management firm that helps professionals and executives identify and achieve their career goals via targeted coaching services.

2BDetermined Blog

The 2BDetermined Blog is a resource for our visitors and clients where we periodically post articles of interest.

The Power of Story

Day Merrill

Story Image.png

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately. Certainly, the wave of women from all walk of life all around the world who have shared their #metoo stories has been one factor. I saw a recent Tweet from Hillary Clinton in which she notes “Storytelling is at the heart of every cultural & political revolution” in relation to an upcoming @WomenintheWorld event. In an on-line article in The Ladders entitled “6 reasons recruiters say they'll throw your resume in the trash,” the author cites one of those reasons as “It doesn’t tell a story,” noting that if a recruiter looks at your resume and can’t tell what your career “story” is and where you’re hoping to go, that could lead to a “no.”

A new colleague, Avil Beckford, is a master in the story-telling department. She calls herself an “invisible mentor” and on her website ( she notes “I want to preserve stories so others learn from them and are inspired.” Her organizational clients hire her to interview their clients so she can craft what she hears into success stories the company can use as a marketing tool. Brilliant! She also interviews departing staff, so undocumented corporate knowledge does not leave with them. Avil understands the power of story in business, but what about the personal level?

I’ve been touting the value of stories in the career management process for a long time. From the creation of an accomplishments-based resume and a robust Linkedin to the value proposition you share in cover letters, job interviews and networking meetings, the key to career success is story. One of the first assignments I gave new clients is the creation of what I call SOARS stories. SOARS is an acronym for the Situations you’ve dealt with at work, the Obstacles and Opportunities those situations presented for you and the organization, the Actions you took to solve the problem or capitalize on the opportunity and the quantified Results you achieved. The final “S” is for the Skills you used to accomplish each.

As I explain to clients, creating these stories serves multiple purposes. For career planning, they help you identify your "towering strengths," i.e., those Skills that you use consistently. I worked with one client recently who was having trouble making the leap from individual contributor to management. After writing up several stories that clearly identified her skilled leadership as they way she had accomplished each, she had the confidence to put leadership in her resume Profile as claim of expertise she could backup with examples. This helped her expand the levels she was targeting, and eventually she landed a managerial job because of her proven skills in leadership.

Concrete examples with quantified results are also important in changing the focus of your resume from describing what you've done to proving what you can do. They also serve as examples you can use to match your qualifications to stated requirements when responding to job postings. I had a client with a Marketing degree who had started off in Sales; with most of his successive job titles and responsibilities emphasizing the sales side of his roles. As a result, he was “typecast” as a sales guy. With a number of stories about marketing successes, we were able to shift the focus of his résumé from “Sales & Marketing” to “Marketing with a foundation in Sales.” As a result, he was seen differently by the marketplace, and landed a marketing job soon afterward.

Stories can also help with networking by clarifying your "brand," i.e., what you want to do next and why-both in terms of qualifications and preferences. A client who had targeted the cosmetics industry discovered that despite her skills, she was not a great match for what can be a ruthless “Devil Wears Prada” world. Her stories about the accomplishments she had most enjoyed helped a networking contact point out that she was better suited to a less cut-throat environment. As a result, she shifted her focus to the related personal care products industry and found a welcome home that was a much better “fit.”

One of the complaints I hear from HR professionals and recruiters is that candidates flounder in behavioural interviews because they don’t have stories they can use as examples. If you can demonstrate not only what you have accomplished, but also how and the importance/impact of your achievements, you will have a leg up on the competition. One of our clients not only had to interview with a panel of senior decision makers, he had to make a formal presentation to demonstrate both content knowledge and an ability to connect with the leadership team. We helped him build a slide deck that included concrete examples with metrics and was impeccably crafted. Not only did he get the job, he was told they wanted him to be their “Chief PowerPoint Officer” for his ability to convey his message.

What’s your story? Do you have a clear way of explaining who you are and what you’re good for? How about a concise work history with examples that show the value you created in each role and how that propelled you to the next level or job? What about an explanation of your search goals and your reason for being in the market? All the “typical” questions you can expect to be asked in a job search can be answered by good stories. After all, we are a species of storytellers, and while someone might not remember your name or your resume, everyone remembers a good story. Unconvinced? Take a look back over this article and ask yourself how much credence you’d give my “advice” had I not backed it up with stories of real clients and their successes?

You are the only one who has lived your life and you are the one who can chart your course for the future. Take the time to craft your stories and learn to tell them well; it’s the best career insurance you can have.


September: The Other New Year

Day Merrill

September back to school.jpg

As much as I love summer, the final days of August often seem tired and worn out, and I look forward to the snap of fall that often occurs shortly after Labour Day. This final summer holiday also signals a time of transition as we prepare for a new cycle to start all over again.

Yesterday was the first day of the new school year in Ontario. To mark the day, Gill Deacon‒host of CBC’s Here and Now‒asked listeners how they were getting their children ready to ease back into school routines, and they provided lots of tips. She also asked what new starts the adults had planned for themselves. Responses ranged from more education, a return to artistic pursuits and a number focused on starting a search for a new job. I guess we all spent so many years in the classroom that September feels like another “new year” no matter what our age and stage!

Each fall, our low-key, laid back summer selves pull it together and recommit to getting serious. While January 1st  New Year's Resolutions seem more like making up for holiday indulgence, those forged in September–whether a new hobby, a class you’re going to take or a career management plan–feel appropriate for this time of year. And our inner calendar is mirrored by the organizational, as the professional meetings and events that wrapped up in June often launch with a flourish this month.

As you head into this other new year, here are 6 “back-to-school tips” I’ve adapted to help you launch your September career planning:

  1. If you have fallen out of your routine this summer, get back on track. In terms of career planning, this means–planning! Identify some SMART career goals, determine what action is needed to achieve them and seek the help you need to be effective in carrying them out. Then put those actions you’ve identified into your schedule so career management becomes a habit.
  2. Prepare for career chats by doing your homework. Researching the industry/company/contact and drafting a set of questions you want to ask will lead to more productive meetings and prevent much stress in the long run (see my previous blog on networking). Both Google and LinkedIn are invaluable resources for this.
  3. Put together a “shopping list” of what will give you career satisfaction.  Determining what you want in a new job/career ahead of time will create focus for your own activity and help you clarify your message to others who can assist you. Self-assessment, targeted research and informational interviews combined with coaching from someone who can listen, respond and ask key questions can provide structure and support for the process.
  4. Save time on busy days by prepping for networking meetings and interviews in advance. This means keeping your résumé relevant as well as up to date, using a spreadsheet or contact management system to track your career exploration and/or job search activity and having a great go-to outfit for last minute meetings.
  5. Understand what to expect during job interviews. These days, many of my clients are experiencing screening interviews via phone or Skype, panel interviews, presentations and meetings with all stakeholders, not just hiring managers. Head off anxiety by preparing for every eventuality. Then once you are in the meeting, you can focus on being fully present so you get your message across and determine if the role is a good fit.
  6. Prepare for socializing in the job search. Learning how to balance the niceties of conversation with getting down to business is crucial. My corporate clients tell me they are looking for candidates who not only have the “hard” skills they seek, but are adept interpersonally as well.

Since September is clearly a month of new starts and fresh beginnings, I’ll leave you with a question: What’s your career resolution for this “other new year”?

Career Resolutions for 2017

Day Merrill

Career Resolutions for 2017

Happy New Year! How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming? If a career change, promotion or new job is on your list of 2107 goals, here are 7 simple Career Resolutions you can accomplish by the end of the weekend:

  1. Convey professionalism with your emails: Every piece of communication you send out informs potential employers about some aspect of who you are. Most people know to use a personal email address when networking or in their job search, but silkybunny86 or mapleafs4ver isn’t going to help your cause!  Create a professional sounding personal address that includes your actual name so responders can easily find you via type-ahead. Tip: if you can get an email address thorough your university, that can help reinforce your brand.
  2. Make it easy for people to contact you: There’s nothing more frustrating than to receive an email from someone and have to go searching for their phone number to call them. If the recipient is a recruiter, that might mean deciding to move on to the next candidate! So create an email signature that includes your full name, your personal brand tag line and the best phone number to reach you (usually your personal cell). Use it on every email you send out to reinforce your brand through repeated exposure.
  3. Create your own business card: If you are currently in transition, this is a must: it reinforces that while you may not be employed at the moment, you still have a professional identity. Even if you’re working, you may want a personal business card to use when networking for your own career. Pick a simple design that matches the look/feel of your resume and include your full name, your personal brand tag line and your personal v. work phone number and email address.
  4. Check your LinkedIn Profile: LinkedIn will let you know what percentage of competition your current profile has; add suggested information to get as close to 100% complete as you can. Caveat: Don’t upload your resume if you are employed, as that could be a red flag that indicates to your employer that you are thinking about leaving!
  5. Start documenting your achievements: Create a folder on your desktop in which you can capture your paid and volunteer work related accomplishments for the year as they occur. Use a simple Situation-Actions-Results format and quantify those results achieved with metrics: $, #, %. Setting the system up is easy; the challenge is keeping it up to date, but it’s a lot easier to do it as you go v. trying to recall accomplishments later when updating your resume or preparing for an interview. Memory is the worst record keeping device!
  6. Update your marketing collateral: I’m not saying you can do a complete resume overhaul between now and Sunday, but at least change the document name to reflect 2107 and see if there are any 2016 accomplishments that you can write up (see above).
  7. Call your coach: Or mentor, networking group buddy or anyone who will light a fire under you. Start by asking how their New Year is going and how you can help them achieve their 2017 goals. Even paid service providers are more likely to go the extra mile for clients who express a genuine interest in them. Success is all about relationship and reciprocity!

Nothing creates momentum like momentum, so get out of Neutral (or Park!) and shift into 1st gear as a first step to get your career moving in the New Year. You’ll see progress as soon as you focus on the future and take strategic action. Let us know if we can help.


‘Tis the Season 2!

Day Merrill

Tis the Season 2

Happy Holidays! Did you know that between November 1 and mid-January, there are around 30 different traditional holidays celebrated worldwide, including here in North America? While many people take this time to make merry and enjoy a break until the New Year, if you're looking for new work, this can be a great opportunity to kick your job search into high gear. Here’s how to leverage the fact that many people are in in the “holiday spirit.”

Networking at Holiday Events

This week will see more networking events and social get-togethers. Here are 6 tips to help you make the most of these occasions.

  1. Plan ahead: Whether an employer-sponsored party or a social affair, make the most of gatherings by planning in advance. Set a goal to meet and get the contact information from at least 3-5 people per event.  Your objective is to make connections you can contact later for 1:1 meetings.
  2. Dress appropriately: Make sure you know who you're going to be spending time with. Don’t wear business formal if the event is more casual and vice versa. And if it’s an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, go for it!  It leads to great conversations, connections and shows your lighter side.
  3. Bring a buddy: Having a “wing” man or woman can help you cover more ground and gives you someone to chat with if you need a break or pep-talk.
  4. Imbibe with care:  A holiday networking event is not the time to over indulge.  Maintain your professionalism and drink in moderation.
  5. Exchange: Leave your resume at home: your goal is to set the stage for the future. That being said, do give everyone you meet your personal business card, and ask for theirs to make following up easy.
  6. Converse: Focus on the person you're speaking with v. you and your job search. Show genuine interest on a personal level and avoid talking about business–you’re not trying to make a deal!
  7. Prepare for follow up: Make a brief note about each person you meet noting a salient pint or tow you can refer to in your follow up.

Networking 1:1

Those who will be working this week and next are often “minding the store” in what is a quiet time for many organizations. As a result, they may have the time and inclination to meet, chat by phone or at least respond to correspondence. Even if you can’t connect in person, here are 6 tips to empower your outreach over the holidays.

  1. Network purposefully: Rather than focusing what you want/need, reach out to people in your network and potential employers for the sole purpose of building/deepening relationships.  
  2. Send greetings of the season: Use the holidays to send a paper or electronic greeting card v. an impersonal email to each contact.
  3. Expand your marketing: Create a 1-page professional Summary document or Bio that highlights your key skills, qualifications and experience and send it to networking contacts who don't necessarily have a job opening.
  4. Build a wish list: Create a list of as industries/sectors/organizations of interest and why you are focusing on them that you can send to people who ask “What are you looking for?”
  5. Keep your network going: The holidays are a perfect time to circle back to contacts you may have spines to in the past with an update.
  6. Stay in touch over time: Stay visible to key contacts by using creative strategies like endorsing their skills on LinkedIn and using search engine alerts to follow their interests.

Use these tips for work, professional and social events as well as 1:1 meetings to support your holiday networking. May your days be merry an bright, and may all your networking go right!

‘Tis the Season!

Day Merrill

Holiday Search

Some job seekers take Holiday Spice Lattes and Christmas music in every store as a signal to shut down their search until the New Year, but our advice is that right now is actually a “most wonderful time of the year” for anyone looking to advance their career. Make the most of the season if you’re in a job search or even just thinking about a new job in the New Year. Use these 12 tips that to advance your career progress while others have put their career plans on ice:

  1. Make a list: Even if you’re not in a job search, this is great time to think about your career goals for the coming year. What do you want to accomplish? Who can help you? What research do you need to do before you start talking to people?
  2. Check it twice: To support an effective search, you’ll need a professionally crafted and formatted résumé that showcases your accomplishments backed up by a Linkedin profile that conveys your “brand.” This is a good time of year to document what you’ve achieved over the last 12 months.
  3. Naughty or nice: Speaking of LinkedIn, this is a perfect time of year to show appreciation for what others have done for you.  If you haven’t written a LinkedIn testimonial already, use the holiday season to share your gratitude.
  4. With every Christmas card I write: The holidays offer a special time to stay in touch with contacts. Given how little “snail mail” most of us receive, greeting cards can help you stand out. You don’t even have to send them now – think about the New Year.
  5. Wish I had a river to skate away on: If you are unemployed at the moment, don’t try to hide it. These days, there’s no stigma attached to being “between engagements” just focus on where you’re headed, not why you are no longer where you were.
  6. Go tell it on the mountain: Prepare for the inevitable“What are you up to these days?” at holiday events by drafting, practicing and perfecting your “reason for looking” statement so you’re prepared for conversations.
  7. Baby it’s cold outside: When the weather outside is frightful it’s tempting to hunker down at home with eggnog and cookies. Demonstrate your work ethic by going to those interviews, networking meetings and events, even if they’re a hard to get to.
  8. Blue Christmas: Holidays can be challenging for people at the best of times, with memories of times past tinged with nostalgia, regret or stronger emotions. If you find yourself slipping into a funk, reach out to your coach or trusted advisor to get back on track.
  9. Don’t save it all for “Christmas Day”: If the only thing you want out of your job search is a new job, you’re going to be miserable every day but one. What else can you learn, develop, work on during this time? Use transition to create memories of productivity and satisfaction, not frustration.
  10. Jingle all the way: No matter what the time of year, conducting an effective job search is a process that takes time. As I tell my clients, we hope for a sprint, but we plan for a marathon. The sooner you trust–even embrace–the process, the faster you’ll make progress.
  11. Here comes Santa Claus: Good news–December is a huge month for hiring! Anyone who works for an organization with a calendar fiscal year and is looking to hire wants to get it done before the end of the year. This is the time to step up, not stop your job search activity.
  12. Dashing through the snow: From large-scale alumni/ae events to professional association holiday socials and festive office parties, networking opportunities abound. Our next blog will focus on effective holiday networking.

 It’s up to you to make this holiday season as productive as it joyous. Give yourself the gift of clarity, focus and commitment to make these days meaningful.

The Business Case for Sustainability

Day Merrill

In addition to teaching my clients a thing or two, I’m always delighted when I learn something new from them. Recently, a number of clients have expressed interest in exploring careers in the growing field of Corporate Sustainability. When you hear that term, what comes to mind: Environmental stewardship? Long term planning? Something “Green” and feel-good?

One of my clients shared a recent post about a joint MIT/Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Sustainability & Innovation project that explores “how sustainability pressures are transforming the ways we all work, live, and compete.” Defining Corporate Sustainability as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) the project research is designed “to help managers to better understand the new forces that will affect their organizations, to navigate through the overwhelming mass of information about sustainability, and to fend off the threats and capitalize on the opportunities that sustainability issues present.”

Most strikingly, the research highlights the link between corporate sustainability and financial performance that is now being noted by investors. The study finds that

“90% of investors are likely to measure a company’s sustainability performance before making any investment decisions” citing as the top three reasons “increased potential for long-term value creation, improved revenue potential, and demonstration of operational efficiency.” (

This is a pretty radical shift from the mentality that’s it’s all about the numbers, and only the ones from the last quarter/week/day/hour! As recently as 2010, Bloomberg News published an article entitled “Investors Don't Care About Sustainability” that indicated just 22% of 766 CEOs surveyed believed that investors would be “key stakeholders in driving their action on sustainability over the next five years.” (

Because those CEOs viewed the “lack of investor interest as a critical barrier to further investment,” very few of them even attempted to communicate to shareholders about sustainability as a business issue, perpetuating the cycle of disregard. This is despite a whopping 93% of CEOs believing that “sustainability will be ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to the future success of their business” and 96% believing that “sustainability should be fully integrated in the strategy and operations of a company.”

What has changed in the intervening years?  Evidently, CEO’s have enabled progress by identifying and executing on the three key positives the Bloomberg article posits as necessary for sustainability to be embraced:

  • Demonstrating the role of sustainability in shaping future strategy
  • Quantifying  the impact of sustainability on revenue, cost, risk and intangibles
  • Communicating the contribution of sustainability to value creation

As a partner in the recent Sustainability & Innovation project, global management consulting firm BCG, which describes itself as “the world’s leading advisor on business strategy,” is not only reporting on this shift but embedding sustainability into their own practice narrative, indicating that their consulting approach “ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results.”  

It is heartening that many leading companies are breaking the investor deadlock with compelling evidence that a business strategy that incorporates sustainability works. 80% of the CEOs surveyed believe that a “tipping point” of sustainability is embedded within the majority of companies global is possible within 10 to 15 years. Can’t be too soon!

Look for my next post on the career and personal impact of Sustainability.

“Spring Cleaning” Your Resume

Day Merrill

Spring Cleaning

Here in Canada, we launch summer with the Victoria Day “24” weekend; in the U.S., it’s Memorial Day. Either way, while it may feel like summer, it’s not official until June 21st so there’s still time for those annual cleaning projects. In addition to whatever needs attention around the house, cottage, car or boat, your resume deserves a good “spring cleaning” too.

As career coaches, we often deal with resumes when clients have a pressing need—a call from a recruiter, an unanticipated job loss, a posting too good to ignore. When we ask for a current resume to help get the process started, you’d be surprised at what we get:

  • Out-of-date resumes missing information about the current/most recent employer and job.
  • “New grad” resumes from mid-career professionals with years-old education cited first.
  • Multipage documents that have never been edited—just added to over the years.

If any of these sound like your resume, here are some tips that can help you create a current, level appropriate document that accurately represents who you are today‒ and where you’re headed:

  1. You need a career objective, but your resume doesn’t. No one is interested that your goal is “A role with a progressive firm where I can grow and develop.” Job seekers get hired to meet specific needs and solve particular problems. After a Header that provides your coordinates, begin your resume with a Profile that describes succinctly what you’re known for and in what functions and industries. Consider a list of Core Competencies as well; some employers start there and don’t go any further if they don’t see something that speaks to them.
  2. A resume is your primary self-marketing document, not just an employment history. Too many clients give far too much “real estate” to describing in lengthy detail all the duties and responsibilities of every job they’ve ever held. Instead, give the key facts: organization name and location, brief description if it's not a household name and the dates you were employed (years only). State your title and a brief description of the role: reporting relationship, span of control, mandate.
  3. Don’t confuse activities with accomplishments. The bullet points on your resume are the prime "real estate" so make sure there’s compelling content in each. That means focusing on what you accomplished v. what you were responsible for or spent time on. Start each bullet with a powerful action verb and use #, $ and % to quantify your results (as well as draw the reader’s attention to eye-catching symbols and numerals.
  4. Taper off. The further back you go, the fewer details you should give about each job. If you discover that the work you want to emphasize is related to several jobs ago, consider a combined functional/chronological format that presents relevant accomplishments up front followed by your employment history.
  5. Be selective when it comes to Education & Professional Development (which goes after Experience in a mid-career professional resume) State degrees earned, but not every course, seminar or workshop you’ve ever taken. The same goes for designations and certifications. If it’s relevant to your future include it; otherwise, save the space.
  6. Keep it professional. Activities and personal interests are mostly distractors (except in some smaller markets where showing community involvement is a plus). So unless there’s a link to your career goals (e.g., someone wanting to shift from sales to finance as Treasurer for a non-profit), leave it off. You can always discuss hobbies and interests in the interview, plus employers are skeptical about hiring someone with too much “extra-curricular” activity.
  7. Unless you are a new grad, graduate from the one-page resume. After you’ve been working for a while, you’ll need extra space to clarify and quantify your relevant work accomplishments and professional development activities. Just make sure to use a different Page 2 Header to avoid confusion and keep your name and contact details in front of the reader.

Because the resume is often your first point of contact with a potential employer, what you say, how you say it and the way you present yourself are all important. Keep in mind the average amount of time spent on a first reading of a resume is only 11-22 seconds. Make every second count by cleaning up your resume so the reader sees you as you want to be seen. And keep your resume up to date so you’re always ready to ‘spring” ahead in your career.

If you would like an independent assessment of your current resume, our Senior Career Coach Derek Smith would be happy to provide a complimentary resume critique. Send your resume to the Info address on our website; we’ll assess it via our Resume Checklist and provide you feedback.

Leading from the Heart as well as the Head

Day Merrill

Heart Leadership

We have a new government in Canada. Astoundingly, Justin Trudeau, the underdog candidate early in the campaign, came from distant 3rd place to secure a majority in the House of Commons. The incumbent party at the time chalked off their stunning defeat to their campaign style. Wiser heads have pointed out that after 10 years, it was their leadership style that was up for a vote, and they lost.

Many people scoffed at candidate Trudeau as a lightweight. They questioned his youth, his experience teaching drama v. practicing a “hard” discipline such as law or economics and unbridled optimism and concluded he was “just not ready” for the job. Even after he was elected, they claimed that while you can campaign form the heart, you have to lead from the head. Justin Trudeau disagrees, and has made it clear that he intends to lead as he campaigned.

As a coach, I do not at all see this as a recipe for disaster. In the 25+ years I’ve spent in Corporate Outplacement, I’ve not once seen a senior executive turfed for not being logical and hard-headed enough. Nor is technical prowess ever the issue. The problem is always one of approach. The individual’s stylistic preferences are seen as an indicator that while he or she “can” do the job in terms of performing tasks required of the role and “will” do the job in terms of motivation and initiative, for whatever reason, the individual selected for termination is no longer deemed a good “fit.”

I recall one client facing termination despite having made some significant contributions that extended the company’s service offerings. One idea was deemed so well-suited to the needs of the market that a new department was formed to develop and roll it out. The originator of the ideas assumed the lead role was in the bag. Instead, he was passed over for a peer with less technical chops but a reputation for attracting high performers who would go above and beyond to complete their work. This peer was known for hiring smart people, then using people leadership skills to manage, develop, mentor and coach the team, gaining discretionary effort from engaged employees. In contrast, our client had run out of road and like Steve Jobs getting booted out of Apple, learned the hard way that being brilliant was no longer “enough.”

We see the same phenomenon in our Executive Coaching practice. We were asked to work with a senior manager who had been assigned to salvage a key project that had gone off the rails. Sensing the urgency of the situation, this pro jumped right in with a “take no prisoners” attitude and completed the project on time and within budget. Baffled when referred to coaching v. praised for stellar results, the former superstar failed to realize was that over the years the organization had evolved, but her style hadn’t. There was still an expectation of high task performance, but also attention to how things got done. Complaints from employees seeking to leave the project and comments from peers about how difficult she was to deal with eventually landed her in our office.

Over time both of these clients discovered that the hard driving, logic-based style that had fueled their early success was no longer working. Even creativity could not save the day. The missing factor was “heart,” also known as emotional intelligence or people smarts. Once these failing clients understood their preferred social styles, they were able to recognize and address the gap they needed to bridge. They learned to broaden their range of responses, not tossing thinking out the window, but no longer relying solely on narrow logic plus action.

One of the models we used to help them do this is a simple framework for decision making. While all of us have a preferred means of reaching conclusions, we are wise to approach each situation from a full 360° perspective:

  • Sensing: Start by gathering the facts
  • Intuition: Look at the implications of each fact and generate possibilities beyond the obvious
  • Thinking: Weigh options logically in terms of upside and downside potential of each
  • Feeling: Factor in how the decision is likely to be received by those impacted and how it will reflect on you/your organization.

Our natural preferences can be a source of great strength, but if we over rely on them to the exclusion of other perspectives, our decisions are less comprehensive and we are less effective. For example, someone with a strong preference for action may jump right into a decision before weighing pros and cons. An inventive type may be so enthralled by the possibilities of an idea that they ignore inconvenient facts about limitations and parameters.

Our previous government viewed this country through the lens of logic without testing the waning appetite of its residents for increasingly draconian policies. (If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; if you are suspicious of people from certain countries, every refugee claimant is a potential terrorist.)

Canadian voters decided they had had enough, and elected a very different sort of leader. While future blogs will cover some of the specific implications of the new Liberal majority government in Ottawa, let me start by noting that this is a good time for all of us to take stock. The new wind blowing signals real change for business as well as government. We need to examine our current assumption sets and use all resources at hand to view situations with a balanced approach: looking through the compassionate eyes of the heart, not just the cool scrutiny of analysis. For some of us, this may require greater attention to the Feeling factor‒not some fuzzy do-gooder attitude but the deep logic of the heart.

The clouds have dissipated so whoever you voted for, take a deep breath. Recognize this change as the opportunity it is for you and your organization to grow beyond your current limitations. Sunny ways!

Work for Yourself this Weekend

Day Merrill

Its the Weekend!

For anyone working, the weekend is often the only time they have for career management. Too often, we talk about activities such as writing accomplishment stories, updating resumes and planning outreach as things we “have” to do rather than career-savvy activities we carve out time for in order to get ahead. If you are thinking of a career next step, here are 5 simple things you can do starting this weekend that will support your goals:

  1. Reframe career management activities as key personal priorities, not chores. It’s the same principle as recognizing that carving off a percentage of earnings is “paying yourself first,” not denying yourself something.

  2. Commit a chunk of time to your career every weekend. A lot can be accomplished in just one hour a weekend, and creating a rhythm will help you build and sustain momentum.

  3. Capture opportune moments when they arise. Check LinkedIn when you’re looking at Facebook, keep a draft of a resume in progress open on your laptop or tablet so it’s readily accessible if you get a sudden brain-wave, use your cell phone’s notes function or send yourself a quick email when an idea strikes you at the soccer field or grocery store (but not at church or the movies!)

  4. Since we no longer operate in a Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00 world of work, capitalize on your available weekend time to match the new work realities. Use the weekend to send out LinkedIn requests and networking emails and leave voice mail messages for contacts. You may get the attention of someone who is also on-line (you’re reading this, aren’t you?!)

  5. Be prepared for weekend contact from networking connections, even potential employers. I’ve had clients get phone interview calls on a weekend, one even got a job offer on Christmas Eve. Keep a copy of your resume on your cell phone to refer to or send out immediately.

If nothing else, the weekend is a great time to review and take stock on what you did/did not accomplish last week (both at work and for your career) and make a plan for the week to come. Lee Iaccoca, former chair of Chrysler Corporation and noted automobile executive, shared in his autobiography that he dedicated his weekends to family time, but that on Sunday evenings he was reviewing his previous week and planning his upcoming week just as we are suggesting here. That way, you’ll not only be able to hit the ground running on Monday morning, you’ll already be ahead of the competition.

Have a great‒and productive‒weekend!

Why Everyone Needs an “Elevator Speech”

Day Merrill


While most of our clients are making intentional career transitions, I have a number who have recently found themselves out of work for a variety of reasons‒ none of them cause-related. In one instance, the client had sought out a developmental rotation in a different part of her organization, but had been given no direction from the hiring manager, who was subsequently replaced by another manager who let the client go for failing to accomplish goals that had never been set (welcome to Crazytown, Inc.!).

Another client was the star player on his team until a new boss came in and decided to make her mark by changing everything that was working well, and targeting this client as part of the “old” that needed to be eliminated. The most recent example is a client whose organization undertook a massive restructuring, and rather than growing the department‒the role he was hired for‒ his mandate shifted to downsizing, his job being the final one on the chopping block.

The Two Tough Questions

In all of these cases, the clients are now faced with having to answer two dreaded questions: “What do you do?” and “Why are you in the market?” Fortunately, each of them has developed an “Elevator Speech” they can update to address these two tough questions.

What is an Elevator Speech? More than a “sales pitch,” it’s an opportunity to convey 5 pieces of key information about you:

  • Who you are, i.e. your professional identifier

  • Where you’ve been‒ a concise career history

  • What you’re good for‒ the key competencies you can demonstrate via your accomplishments.

  • Why you’re currently in the market‒ your reason for leaving/looking statement

  • What you’re looking for and why‒ your search goals and rationale for that path

Even if you are not currently dealing with job loss, preparing an Elevator Speech is a vital career management practice. Imagine you are at a professional conference for your field, a seminar on a topic of interest for your future career or some other event where you’ll be meeting lots of new people. You have the chance to introduce yourself and tell people something about who you are, what you’re all about and where you’re headed. If the length of time you have is a 2-minute elevator ride, what will you say?

Media experts advise developing a few key “sound bites” that consistently reinforce your personal “brand” and message. Use the guide below to build an Elevator Speech that will create a memorable first impression. It may be the lead-in to a networking conversation on the spot or help you secure a meeting for an informational interview at a later date.

Your Five Sound Bites

Capsule Profile

This is your opportunity to quickly identify your personal employment brand by stating your Professional Identifier (irrespective of current job title or employment status) and making “claims” about your professional capabilities. This is not bragging or boasting– it’s the key skills, experience and personal qualities you want people to remember about you. Hint: Use your résumé Profile as a starting point and create a more conversational spoken version.

Career Review with Accomplishments

The purpose of this sound bite is to set context by briefly outlining your relevant career and educational history. Letting people know where you’ve come from (past) will enable them to get a better grasp on where you are today (present) and where you’d like to go next (future).

Key Strengths

People remember better what they hear more than once, so reiterate the 3-5 skills/strengths you’ve mentioned in your Capsule Prolife that you’d like to use in your next role.

Reason for Leaving/Looking Story

Explaining why you are currently in the market for a new job lets people know that you are actively looking not just “thinking about” a move. It also “normalizes” your understanding of the reality that lots of people get let go these days for perfectly acceptable reasons. If you shift the focus from what happened and why to the opportunity this transition represents, you cover the necessary ground without getting stuck there.

What’s next?

This is your chance to talk about your search goals: the industries/functions/roles/ you are exploring and why they are of potential interest to you. This Sound Bite provides a segue into your questions or request for a meeting.

The clients I referenced above are already in pursuit of new opportunities. The first has reached out to former colleagues, using her Elevator Speech to bring them up to date, remind them of the calibre of her work across a career with only one speed-bump and inform them of her planned career direction. She already has meetings scheduled.

The second client used his Elevator Speech in his introduction to an event he conducted for a non-profit organization. His pro bono workshop provided not only an opportunity to use his skills in service of an organization that is important to him, it also caught the attention of an entrepreneur looking for someone with exactly his skills set. They are in discussion about a collaboration aligned with the client’s personal values as well as his professional goals.

When an interesting (and unposted) job showed up after an early networking chat, the third client was ready to jump right on the opportunity. Initial discussions enabled him to construct a targeted and compelling letter of application and he is now scheduled for an interview.

Are You Ready?

Whatever your current circumstances, a well-honed Elevator Speech, like an accomplishment-based resume, a great LinkedIn profile and a targeted cover letter should be part of your professional “marketing collateral.” Many times, we never see termination coming until it’s too late. Don’t get caught short; prepare now for your next transition‒ planned or imposed‒ so you can answer the tough questions of who you are and why you are in the market with confidence, and add career resilience to your self-management resources.


When Bad Bosses Happen to Good Employees

Day Merrill

Bad Bosses

Sometimes it really isn’t you

The Toronto Star is currently running a series on precarious employment. When you are working for a bad boss, all employment is precarious.

I am currently working with three clients suffering under bad bosses. One is a proven professional in her field with a solid track record of performance in her industry, including previous success at her current company, a global retail giant. Another is a rising star who ran afoul of a manager who deep-sixed his career at a world renowned technology firm. The third is a colleague (who I can vouch for as a top employee) who was “inherited” by a Boss from Hell who has made his life impossible.

In all three cases, the unrelenting negativity of these bosses has so demoralized each of these high performers that they have begun to doubt their own worth. This is not a unique phenomenon, and may have happened to you. Here’s one explanation of why this happens and more importantly, what you can do if you find yourself working for an SOB or BOW (I’ll let you decipher those acronyms!)

Bad Bosses are made, not born

As a coach, I operate on the basis of the following philosophy: everyone always does the best they can in every circumstance given the resources they currently possess. Before you go ballistic, let me assure you that this does not excuse bad behaviour. But it may help to explain it:

  1. Some managers are under duress themselves, and we all know the old saw about what rolls downhill. They “do unto others” what is being done to them, perpetuating a cycle of organizational abuse because they just don’t have what it takes to do otherwise.

  2. Certain managers grew up in the “command and control” business environment of yesteryear. They believe that “the boss” is the ultimate authority and employees can either take what they dish out or leave, because that’s what they had to do.

  3. Evil does lurk in the hearts of some. There are bosses who seem to get a thrill from actively humiliating their employees. As painful as it is to be on the receiving end of this (I once had a boss who kept a hand-grenade on his desk as a paperweight!), these people are more to be pitied (and avoided) then merely censured. They are sick puppies and will run out of road later if not sooner.

Here’s the common theme: all bad bosses have gotten to where they are using a particular style that they believe “works” for them. Some have risen through the ranks in spite of their abusive style. Sadly, some have prospered because of that style in organizations that reward authoritarianism.

Good employees can transcend bad bosses

If you are working for a terrible boss and have begun to doubt your abilities, ask yourself the following question: “Have I been successful in previous jobs?” If the answer is consistently yes, then it’s not you. Your qualifications have been acknowledged in the past, and will be noticed again, but you may well have to leave to achieve that. Here’s how:

  1. If a boss is a decent person but under such stress that he/she has become a tyrant, that’s not likely to change unless there’s a full-scale transformation of the organization’s culture. New leadership at the top can signal such positive change, but you may not be able to wait it out until then. Start planning your next career move ASAP so you can get out before your performance reviews are downgraded, your spirt is demeaned and your career is derailed.

  2. If you find yourself working for a “commandant” style of boss, use the opportunity to learn how satisfy the demands of someone who is less than collaborative. Think of your job as a laboratory for career resilience in which you can experiment with different behaviours and learn which ones work with a control freak. At the same time, start exploring other options within the organization or elsewhere, remembering to “interview” any potential boss to determine his/her style.

  3. If you are working for the devil (in Prada or Paul Stuart), get out as soon as you can. Consider speaking to an employment lawyer about constructive dismissal and/or filing a Human Rights complaint for harassment. Truly evil bosses are not to be trifled with, so escape with your life; even unemployment is less damaging than abuse.

Regaining some perspective

I often recommend a “Career 360°” feedback process to clients, especially those dealing with extremely challenging work situations. People who know you in a professional context can remind you who you really are and can serve as counterbalancing voices to a boss screaming at you about how “stupid,” "worthless” or “incompetent” you are.

In addition, build a resume based around your accomplishments‒not just your duties, responsibilities or activities‒and create a strong LinkedIn profile that highlights your skills. These can remind you as well as the rest of the world what value you hold for the right employer.

Finally, keep in mind the most powerful four words in our language: “this too shall pass.” Play your cards right and you will find a way back to workplace sanity and go on to greater things (including remembering the impact a boss has on the day-to-day life of employees should you become a manager!) And pity those horrible bosses, who live full-time in the hell they tried to inflict on you. For you, there are ways out; unless they commit to making a huge and difficult change they are good and truly stuck with themselves.

Job Search 2015: Advice for Those Who Haven’t Looked for Work in a Long Time

Day Merrill

Job Seeker 2015

This blog was originally selected for publication on as the Number 1 piece of advice for those who haven’t conducted a job search in 5-10 years.

If you have not conducted a job search in a while, you may think everything’s different or that nothing has changed. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s changed:

In addition to an accomplishments-based résumé, you will need a strong LinkedIn profile, as anyone who is looking to hire will check out your profile on this site, often even before contacting you.

  • Recruiters/hiring managers will also be looking at your overall on-line profile, so make sure your Facebook page and any other social media sites represent you in a way that would be attractive v. repellent to a potential employer.

  • A tight and volatile job market means more scrutiny in the hiring process. Expect longer wait times for initial contact (often a phone screening by HR or a recruiter), multiple interviews and delays in decisions.

  • Recruiters and Human Resources professionals are squeezed between many applicants for every job and the demand by harried hiring managers to see only the “best” candidates. Initial screening of credentials happens quickly (average 15 seconds) to eliminate anyone who doesn’t hit all the marks. To insure your application makes it through the first round, cover letters must “connect the dots” between their requirements and your qualifications.

What hasn’t changed:

  • People get hired because they can help organizations solve specific problems, so make sure you can articulate your value proposition in written and spoken form.

  • Advertised positions–whether in print or on-line–represent only about 10-15% of hiring activity, so don`t spend more than that percentage of your job search time and energy on this channel. Set up career alerts on job boards and with companies of interest so posted positions come to you, v. wasting time checking to see if there’s “anything new.”

  • Recruiters–whether internal or external–account for no more than 10-15% of hiring, so don`t spend too much time chasing them. Send your résumé to all recruiters who work in your industry or field so you get into their database– where they start when they’re looking for candidates. Don’t bother calling them: if they see a potential fit, they’ll call you.

  • The highest percentage of hiring results from some sort of personal contact, so make networking-related activities (research, targeting, developing contacts, informational interviewing, follow-up) comprise at least 75% of your job search.

If you've been off the market for a while and are now thinking about conducting a search for new work, 2BDetermined can help.

Is it Just Me? The Rise of Unsolicited Referral Requests

Day Merrill

Referral Requests

I recently received requests for referrals from two unrelated sources looking to drum up business. In each case, the request was very specific, asking me to make a fairly lengthy, personal and testimonial-based introduction to my network, advocating use of the requester for the service they provide. Each request included a virtually identical email template:

Hi (Referral’s Name)-

I want to introduce you to (Requester’s Name)
He/she’s an expert in (area of practice)
But most of all (Requester) has a huge heart and loves helping people. He/She is the real deal.
I thought of you because (specific personal reason for making the referral)
He/She is quite booked, but offered to give you a free (consultation/session).
If you're interested in (value proposition), then I recommend giving (Requester) a call.
His/her website is …and his/her phone number is…
I also copied him/her on this email so you can respond this way as well.
I recommend you give (Requester) a call right away, because his/her schedule fills up fast.
Let me know if you have any questions.

One request came from a service provider I’d visited via a gift certificate. While the experience was pleasant and positive, I hardly consider myself a “client,” much less one who can speak to a shared “struggle with similar issues” that I am presumed to “know” my contact is experiencing.  The other request was from a business consultant who evidently decided “to take my entire (list of qualifications) and focus it toward helping (target market) solve their (issues) so they can get on with growing their business.” I met this individual once at an orientation for a new community development volunteer initiative and new nothing about any other life or work activities.

I must admit that I was taken aback by both requests. Don’t get me wrong–I am a big fan of sharing resources and networking. Both topics are so crucial for career success that they come up in nearly every client conversation. But these recent requests in the guise of an “opportunity” for me to help them help my contacts seem blatantly self-serving. While some proponent of “push marketing” is clearly advocating this tactic, it is counter to the advice we share with clients searching for new jobs and entrepreneurs seeking new customers for their business venture. Here are our Rules of Engagement for networking:

  1. Networking only works when it’s relationship-based. While the traditional “6 degrees of separation” have been decreased to a couple of clicks via social media, an email marketing campaign doesn’t begin to qualify as “personal.” I regularly refer people to my relator, my favourite indie coffee shop and any number of tradespeople, many of whom were referred to me. For client referrals, LinkedIn has been a godsend, as I don’t have to rack my brain “remembering” who I know in Corporate Development or Digital Marketing–an advanced search usually produces so many hits that we have to keep narrowing parameters to get down to a reasonable number!  But I’ve never made a personal or business referral because someone provided me with a “convenient” email template to use to blast my contacts.

  2. Networking puts reputations on the line. If I trust the individual making the referral as well as their personal knowledge of the product/service/provider they are recommending, I tend to act or file the information away for use when the need arises. Likewise, when I “discover” some great new restaurant/chiropractor/website/dog kennel, I share the resource with all and sundry–mostly when asked and almost always by good old word-of-mouth. My network knows they can count on any referral I make because I am a satisfied customer, not an unpaid sales agent. The same goes for client networking referrals; I make sure any client I refer to one of my contacts is very well-prepared for the informational interview because my reputation is on the line.

  3. Networking is reciprocal, not transactional. I don’t refer friends to my relator because he gives me an apple pie every Thanksgiving or signs off his monthly newsletter with “I'm never too busy for your referrals.” While the former is a lovely touch and a reminder of his thoughtfulness and the latter makes good business sense, the reason for the referral is that he “got” exactly what we were looking for in a house and delivered on all the promises he made. I know any friend, family member or business acquaintance will be in good hands with him. On the business side, I’ve never paid for referrals nor offered payment, as that feels like a conflict of interest. I want to make sure any referrals I get or give are open-hearted, not open-handed!

  4. Networking is purposeful but not one-dimensional. Once I make a referral, it’s time for me to get out of the way. Even though I may anticipate the usefulness of a contact for a client, the real magic comes when those two people discover commonalities I couldn’t have imagined, much less predicted. For instance, a connection I set up between two clients to help one get insights form the other on a company they both were targeting led to a joint project leveraging their two very different skill sets and a published article!

So call me old-fashioned, but I will not be acting on either of the requests I received nor can you expect to get such a request from me. If we’ve worked together and you think I could be of assistance to someone you know, I’d be happy to speak with them to discover how I might help. But the closest thing to a “request” you’ll get from me is the following “pull marketing” message I use at the close of my “Congratulations on your new job!” emails: “If anyone you know is experiencing a challenge in career planning, job search or career management, please feel free to have them contact me for an initial no cost/no obligation consultation.”

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about this marketing approach, so please weigh in. From where I sit, good work gets acknowledged/talked about and what goes around comes around just fine without needing a push. And that to me is the real “real deal.”

Hard Evidence About Soft Skills

Day Merrill

Soft Skills

I was asked to speak on the topic of “soft skills” at a recent International Women’s Day event. There was a time when soft skills that occurred “naturally” were thought to be the only ones women had! Even though the range of “hard skills” women are now acknowledged as possessing is vast, developing so called “soft” skills is important for all us, whatever our gender. As fellow coach Peggy Klaus puts it, “Soft skills get little respect, but will make or break your career.”

Let’s start with some definitions. Hard skills form the “what” of our careers, establishing our professional identities on the basis of industry/sector or functional focus. If someone is a VP of Business Development, it’s likely he has “hard” sales and marketing skills including targeting prospects, negotiating terms and closing deals. If someone is a Chemical Engineer for an oil company, you can expect she has “hard” knowledge of both engineering and the energy sector. Most of us can probably identify our hard skills, the building blocks that form the foundation or base of our careers, but it’s the soft skills that serve as the crucial mortar that holds those blocks together.

I had an executive coaching client who had risen rapidly through a major financial institution. A quick study, she was could rapidly assess what needed to be done and set goals, put together a plan to accomplish those goals and execute on that plan successfully. All went well as long as she was an individual contributor, but some cracks began to show when she started to manage others. She was great at “get ‘er done” but often left a body count in her wake. In her singular focus to accomplish the task, she pushed others as hard as he drove herself and assumed her urgency would motivate them. When her direct reports started to push back, she was at a loss, and cracked the whip even harder.

When complaints started rolling in to HR and people refused to join her team, the organization realized that this star producer had become a problem, and I was engaged as her coach. What we discovered as we began to work together was that the skill set that had propelled her to success in her career up to then had been based on deep knowledge of the banking industry, strong operations experience and exceptional problem solving and decision making–all hard skills. Her difficulties were not in the “what” but the “how.”

The organization identified the problematic behaviours; our work together teased out the underlying assumptions about what she thought she “had” to do to achieve success. Once she understood the impact of her current behaviour, she was open to exploring alternatives, and our focus turned to developing the “soft” skills of communicating more fully and frequently with her teams, delegating tasks with enough information for her direct reports to succeed and shifting her perception of her role from that of micro-manager to resource. It took a while for her to incorporate the new behaviours and for her staff to “buy” that she was changing, but over time, the dynamic shifted. She established a new reputation as a strong and capable leader committed to engaging and developing people, and became an “employer of choice” in the bank who went on to further career success.

Here are the lessons she reported having learned from our time together:

  1. An excellent book on the subject says it all in its title, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. While hard skills are necessary to build a career, they’re not sufficient for long-term career success.

  2. Her greatest strengths, when overused had become her weaknesses. Because she had been so “good” at what she did, she had ignored the development of soft skills to her detriment. Once she recognized the limitations she had placed on herself, she was motivated to “do different.”

  3. Shifting from a familiar set of behaviours is simple in theory, but not easy in practice! All change is a process that moves from certainty through uncertainty to new certainty at a higher level, and can be tough going. Having an objective caring other at her side made the process easier.

  4. Development has broad benefits. Not only did she improve her abilities as a manager, her new behaviours carried over into other areas. She learned to use influence with senior-level peers, increasing her effectiveness. Enhanced managing up skills led to greater trust on the part of her boss, who included her in more interesting and visible initiatives. Even her family reported she was a lot more fun to have around once she stopped trying to order them around!

In an academic paper entitled Hard evidence on soft skills, co-authors James J. Heckman and Tim Kautz cite “recent evidence on the importance of personality in economic and social life,” noting that “success in life depends on many traits” and not just those that can be measured in terms of achievement. They conclude, “Personality traits predict and cause outcomes.” They note that all of us have traits that tend to be stable across a wide range of situations. How we display those traits “depends on incentives to apply effort in the situations where they are measured and also depends on other traits and skills.”

Soft Skills Savvy

The good news is that our traits are not “set in stone.” They change over the course of our lives, especially when they are developed through means such as education, responding to the changing needs of environments and coaching support. So remember: while your hard skills form the foundation of your career, ongoing success depends as much on the soft skills. In other words, it’s NOT all about that base!


Self-Promotion is not a Bad Thing

Day Merrill

Self Promotion is not a Bad Thing

There have been a number of articles recently about people embellishing their résumés and exaggerating their accomplishments in interviews. The opposite–failing to self-promote can be just as much of a problem. I recently had a bright, accomplished sales professional tell me she was bad at self-promotion because she didn't like to be “boastful.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this; it’s a common problem for certain demographics, including some women, introverts and individuals from cultures where any talk about accomplishments is viewed as unseemly.

Conveying your value to a prospective employer (or a networking contact) is a key part of an effective search for work. As a career coach who supports a diverse population of mid-career professionals, here are the “3R’s of Self-promotion” I give my clients:

  1. Review: Before any career conversation, make sure you have reviewed your qualifications for the position you are interviewing for or the promotion you are seeking. Plan ways to demonstrate how something you have done in the past relates to the current situation, using concrete examples and simple success story format: “When I was at Company, I noticed Problem, so I did A, B and C and as a result, Positive Outcome (quantified whenever possible) occurred. People respond better to stories than empty “claims,” especially stories with happy endings!
  2. Recall: Many times, people get stuck in their own head during meetings, don’t know what to say and are paralyzed by the fear of saying something wrong. Having a list of well-honed and practiced accomplishment stories that “prove” your skills will allow you to be attentive to the conversation so you actually hear what is being asked and can respond approximately by demonstrating your match/potential value for the role.
  3. Reframe: People who hesitate to talk about themselves are usually concerned about coming across as bragging. If you identify the problems the person you are meeting with is experiencing; in the case of a job interview, it’s either the wrong person in the job or no one! When you shift your focus away from yourself to conscious attention on the needs of the person on the other end of the conversation, discussion of your skills and experience is the way to show how you can help, not an egotistical boast.

Remember that failing to convey what you can do is as much of a misrepresentation as making deceitful claims. An effective search can involve humility, but it’s no place for false modesty. After all, if you don't blow your own horn, who will?

Take this job and love it

Day Merrill

Take this Job and Love It

Some great career advice this week passed along by Marc Cenedella, founder of The Ladders.

Marc reports in his column on a recent post by Silicon Valley tech expert Paul Graham. Entitled "What Doesn't Seem Like Work?" Graham notes that "If something that seems like work to other people doesn't seem like work to you, that's something you're well suited for. The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are what you should do.”

Deciding what work you should do isn’t always easy. Sometimes the process requires figuring it out from subtle clues "like a detective solving a case." As a career coach, I’ve noticed like Graham that the same task or job can be excruciatingly painful to one person and pleasant to another. So here's Marc's question (and mine!): What seems like work to other people that doesn't seem like work to you?"

Think about the things that don't seem like work to you and see if there's a pattern. Don't confuse what you're good at (aptitude or skill) with what you enjoy. Differences in how you feel when completing a task or a project indicate preferences that can set you apart from others who can do the work, but with less enthusiasm. After all, as Marc points out, we usually feel happier, perform better and enjoy work more when we're doing things for which we are well-suited.

Focusing on things you excel at AND enjoy will lead to better results in your career. Don't waste time trying to bring all your skills up to the same level as your strongest motivated skills. Not only is that unlikely to work, but it reduces the time you have to master capabilities for which you have a gift.

Take Marc's advice: this week, think about what doesn't feel like work as you plan your next career move.

7 Career Management Resolutions for the New Year

Day Merrill

Career New Year's Resolutions 2015

Many if not most people make some sort of New Year’s Resolutions, an appropriate response to a brand new year.  This first Monday in January is a great time to Career Management one of your top resolution priorities for 2015. No matter what your career circumstances, here are seven “career resolutions” you can start today:

  1. Whatever you are currently doing, do it well! No matter what your career circumstances, there are always positive steps you can take.

    > If you are in a job you love, find ways to add value so you can keep it.

    > If you hate what you’re doing, resolve to do what you can as well as you can– it will build up your résumé and give you a sense of personal accomplishment, even if it’s not recognized by anyone else. But don’t stop there– make a plan for getting a better job.

    > If you’re out of work, reframe your situation from “unemployed” to “in transition” and learn how to conduct an effective search for new work.

    > And if you find yourself at a loss in terms of career focus, resolve to get some assistance figuring out who you are, what you might be doing next and how to get there. If you have the opportunity to work with a coach, great. If not, seek out government sponsored programs or no/low cost alternatives through libraries, professional associations, unions and local networking groups.

  2. Shape up! In addition to trimming a bulging waistline, resolve to tighten up your value proposition. This means an accomplishment based résumé, a concise “elevator pitch” and a batch of SOARS stories (Situation-Obstacles/ Opportunities-Actions-Results-Skills) that demonstrate what you’ve done in the past as an indicator of what you can do in the future. And while you’re focusing on getting “lean,” resolve to prune your emails to the essentials (if it doesn’t fit in one frame it’s too long) and keep your workspace uncluttered (Your Mom was right about cleaning up your room : ).

  3. Enhance your hard skills. Think about pursuing a new certification, finishing a degree or attending a conference that will build your skill set and demonstrate that you are a lifelong learner. If your funds are limited, get creative. What skills could you barter? (We’ve traded career services for house painting, pet sitting and jazz music for an event.) Many professional associations will waive conference registration fees for volunteers. In Ontario, anyone over 60 can enrol in university courses at no charge (although they are deemed a taxable benefit).

  4. Build your soft skills. There’s an excellent book by Master Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. If even you’re not “here” yet, make sure your soft skills keep pace with your technical competence. People get recruited/hired/promoted/retained because of who they are and how they deal with others. (There are dozens of business analysts out there; become the one people want to show up every day) This means learning how to manage up, down and across boundaries. If that’s not your strong suit, invest in coaching to develop the skills that become increasingly important the further along you get in your career. Note: In all our years of coaching, we’ve never had a client on the firing line because of lack of technical skills!

  5. Do who you are. The greatest career success and satisfaction comes from doing work that is aligned with who you are. For any of you who have been brainwashed into believing that that anything that comes easily must not be worth pursuing, get over it–work is for people who forgot how to play! The best job in the world is one in which you show up and have fun, people think you are brilliant and pay you well for doing something that comes naturally. So for anything you just can’t help doing, find a way to take it to the bank.

  6. Learn to accept yourself. A good friend once shared this great advice, “If you can’t hide it, paint it gold.” If you have only worked in one place, sell your loyalty. If you’ve job-hopped, talk about your adaptability. If you’re older, stress your experience and renewed energy. If you’re just starting out, emphasize your eagerness. There’s almost nothing that can’t be reframed, so seek another perspective if you need help recognizing the value of what you bring to the table.

  7. Network, network, network! If you have a bunch of good SOARS stores and a dynamic network, you are assured of career success. Since >80% of jobs/contracts/consulting engagements/clients come about through networking, this is the Number 1 skill you should resolve to master in 2015. We once had a client who was downsized on a Wednesday afternoon. Because he had a vibrant network developed from staying in touch with former clients, being active and visible in his professional association and committing to “collecting” people wherever he went, he had 3 offers by Thursday, made a decision by Friday and started his new job on Monday–pocketing his severance pay in its entirety!

How to Learn From a “Bad” Networking Meeting

Day Merrill

Learn from a Bad Networking Meeting

Whether you’re looking for a job or to advance in your career, never underestimate the power of networking. Research shows that 80% of jobs/promotions are filled via networking efforts, so if your networking meetings aren’t producing the results you want, read on for some key tips. 

One of my clients looking for a new job has been doing a lot of networking. Most of it has gone really well: he’s making some new contacts, connecting well and getting referrals. One meeting though was a disappointment, so in our most recent coaching session, we analysed what went wrong and devised a “do different” strategy for future networking opportunities.

Here are the mistakes he made:

  1. The client failed to prepare adequately for the meeting because he didn’t think the contact was going to be all that helpful/influential. As a result, he asked questions that he could have found answers to with minimal Internet research and the contact looked annoyed.

  2. He failed to prepare or set an agenda, so the meeting rambled, leaving both parties wondering why they had just spent 30 minutes together.

  3. He ditched his elevator speech, and ended up talking about things that were “off-topic” with no way to segue into his questions.

  4. He failed to “decompress” the meeting by stating that while he was looking for a job, he didn’t expect the contact to have or know of a specific job. As a result, at the end of the meeting, the contact said he wasn’t hiring but wished him luck.

  5. He wasn’t able to connect the dots on why this sector would be a good fit, so the contact focused on how hard it is to switch industries.

  6. The client left the meeting feeling depressed, and decided to just forget about it and move on.

  7. He determined to cross that contact off his list, since he had clearly “blown” the meeting.

Here are the tips and techniques that we developed which can also help you get the most out of your networking meetings:

  1. Treat Every Contact Like Gold. Never assume that a given contact isn’t “important” enough for thorough preparation. Every person who has agreed to meet/speak with you deserves both gratitude and respect. This means researching contacts ahead of time, clarifying your purpose for the meeting and having specific questions. You never know who may turn out to be extremely valuable as a resource, so prepare for each networking meeting as if it were a job interview.

  2. Set the Agenda. Keep in mind your dual goal of leaving a positive impression and getting new ideas, advice and information. Remember you called this meeting, so it is up to you to set and communicate your agenda (and keep the meeting/call on track).

  3. Practice, Practice, Practice.  Having a great elevator pitch is a first step, but make sure you can deliver it every time. Work with your coach to make sure your key messages are coming across, then test your self-perceptions by leaving yourself a voicemail message and playing it back. You may not like what you hear, but better youwho can correct it than your contacts!

  4. Put Your Contact at Ease. Say upfront that while you are looking for a new job, you have no expectation that your contact has a job for you. That puts contacts at ease and allows them to be fully available to help you. That phrasing also plants the seed of possibility (“Hmmm, maybe I do have or know of a job…”)

  5. Be Crystal Clear. Explain clearly what you are exploring/looking for and why you think it may be a good fit/next step in your career trajectory. Ask specific, relevant questions that will increase your knowledge and understanding while demonstrating that you have already done your homework. Make sure to ask for referrals.

  6. Conduct a Post-Mortem. Review each meeting fearlessly, assessing what went well (behaviour to reinforce) and what went less well (behaviour to revise). Get help from your coach on both as needed so even if the meeting was a disaster, you can still “fail forward.”

  7. Stay in touch. Use your follow-up note to address unasked/unanswered questions as well as thank your contact for their time and information. Ask for permission to update them on your progress and keep the conversation going. Remember networking is about relationships, not transactions.

Remember that there’s no such thing as a “bad” networking meeting. You either have a great meeting or a great learning experience. Either way, absorb the lessons learned and keep moving!

Top 7 Reasons You Should NOT Take the Summer off

Day Merrill

10 Reasons

The misconception that “nobody hires during the summer” is as common as the bad advice “so you might as well take the summer off.” It may seem counterintuitive, but the opposite is true.

Here’s why you shouldn’t take the summer off, but rather intensify your job search and persist with your networking efforts.

  1. You have a better shot during the summer. Surprise! Statistically, you’re just as likely to find a job during the summer as any other season. In fact, your odds improve since you won’t have as much competition. Since many people believe in the nobody-hires-during-the –summer myth, it’s a perfect time for YOU to be out there.
  2. Summer is a great time to bring new hires on-board. Strong companies want to start the fall with a bang.  Despite what the calendar tells us, many people see September as the start of the year. As a result, companies launch new products, campaigns and initiatives in the fall; summer is the perfect time for you to help them prepare. Also, many companies must spend the money in their budgets if their fiscal year-end is the fall. Therefore, summer time is a great time to hire people who can hit the ground running in the new fiscal year.  You might as well be one of them!
  3. Contract opportunities often open up during the summer to cover for employees taking extended vacation during July and August. And since 40% of contracts eventually lead to full-time employment, this is a great way for you to get known to a new organization as well as get some fresh experience on your résumé.
  4. Interviewing can be extended during the summer due to periodic vacations. Hiring managers are in and out of the office, so you may have to meet multiple times to cover all the players involved in the decision. This is a perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate the key competency of flexibility. Show your positive attitude, patience and persistence.
  5. Employers don’t care what month it is. Hiring isn’t focused on the time of year, rather on the company’s need. Demonstrate your commitment by making yourself available where and when needed. The thought that you will come in on the Friday of a long weekend says a lot about your work ethic. Show your prospective employer that “business as usual” is your operating principle.
  6. Summer is great time to network, whether you’re meeting up with former co-workers at an outdoor patio after work or out for a neighbourhood BBQ. You'll find that people are generally more upbeat out in the sunshine and topics range from vacation plans to workplace activity to what's next in everyone's career. Make sure your former colleagues know they can invite others along and you will open up opportunities to meet new people as well. Also, make sure your friends, family and new acquaintances know who you are, what you do and what you’re looking for. Many a casual Sunday afternoon chat has led to a Tuesday morning office meeting.
  7. The weather tends to make people more relaxed. When you do get in to see someone, they may be more open and generous with their time. Plus, it’s easier to get someone out of their office for a coffee meeting when it’s not freezing cold or snowing!

The misconception that “nobody hires during the summer” is as common as the bad advice “so you might as well take the summer off.” It may seem counterintuitive, but the opposite is true.

Why I Am a Coach

Day Merrill

Why I am a Coach

When my daughters were old enough to understand what I did for a living, they sat me down one day for a talking to. Indignantly, they noted, “Your job is a racket! You ask people nosy questions and then tell them what they should do. You do that ANYWAY!.” My reply? Guilty as charged!

I am a coach because I have an insatiable curiosity about and interest in people–particularly what makes them tick and how they relate to work. The words “work” and worth” are derived from the same root, and I am a self-professed “work enthusiast.” To my way of thinking, work is good, noble and useful. And good work that “fits” is also very satisfying.

When asked what kind of coach I am, I respond that I’m a life-long Transition Advocate: someone who helps people get from where they are to where they need/want to go as gracefully as possible with some fun along the way.

  • In my first career as a secondary school English teacher, I was a strong advocate for learning–not just the rules of language but the beauty of words and the power that comes from being able to discern meaning and communicate verbally. Seeing students come to appreciate language and literature was joyous for me. Each time one of them realized that reading was something they “got” to do not “had to do, I was fulfilled.
  • My second career was as a university administrator, supporting full-time MBA students in figuring out how this very expensive degree would help them achieve their career goals. For the part-time “night school” MBA’s, my role was to help them get their degrees as efficiently as possible–they already knew what they wanted! The contrast between the two groups prompted the question “How do people make career choices?” and more importantly “How can our choices lead to success and satisfaction?”
  • When I discovered the field of career management, I jumped in. This is a discipline focused on helping people research/explore/select/enter and grow/develop in careers and jobs based on individual preferences, goals and values–not just skills and experience. I pinched myself that I got to learn and apply interesting theories and techniques about people and their life choices–and get paid to do it (my daughters clearly had my number). I have never looked back, expanding my scope from career counselling to job search/career transition consulting and finally workplace coaching.

I am a Coach because coaching is who I am. As I tell my clients, while our jobs don’t define us, if we are fortunate, they reflect us. And whenever we lead lives aligned with our true nature and purpose, we make not just a living but a life. I am blessed to have discovered the perfect work for me, and my greatest joy is helping my clients find their unique path. Supporting that journey is my life’s work– nosy questions and all.