Career Coaching & Counseling Articles
Stay ahead of the curve with insights from our CTL Associates.
By John O'Connor
In a lot of situations, I feel strongly that asking great questions can start a positive burn, a fire in another person to respond to you. Questions asked with great thought and context matter. If you ask me a question that you really want me to answer, I can tell if you find it compelling and challenging, that you authentically want to listen so that you are closer to an answer. Most of the time, I can tell when someone asks or writes a question with the desire of knowing the answer. So many questions that people ask in marketing themselves or even marketing products seem rhetorical. Look at Linked In and all the questions that get posed on that channel. Many of them are rather self-serving; the writer does not care to know the answer. Others can be excellently posed, sincere and authentic. Underlying many questions that people ask is this – “Let me pose a question that elicits the response I want from you” or “Please notice that I am asking this question.” It's harder to ask tough questions and enter into a dialogue. It's harder to engage in tough conversations without having made up your mind completely. It's more difficult to not get pat answers and have to look deeper into assumptions you have made about an issue. But what positive things can happen if you do it the "hard" way? What happens if in conversations or in blogs or in daily life you try to rise and ask the more difficult questions? Here are some positive, possible outcomes:
1. You will create a more authentic brand.
2. You will interact with people from a point of integrity.
3. You will seek and find better answers.
4. You will learn more and become better at what you do.
5. You will develop a stronger reputation among people that matter.
As an executive career coach and professional, I am sure I ask a lot of basic questions and common questions initially. But clients want me and need me to dig much deeper as I grow my relationship with them. Our best clients want collaboration, interaction, tough questions and, ultimately, strong, workable and credible advice. That's not easy to get to. Ultimately, I don't want to ask just the easy questions, and I certainly don't want to come up with pre-conceived solutions that just benefit me. When I focus on me, I become short-sighted. I think we all do. I hope and believe my clients want authentic interaction, tough questions and for me to have their best interests in mind.
How can asking tough questions in your field and work life benefit you? Who in your life has asked you the toughest questions? Who in your life has asked tough questions, really listened and used the information to help you? The people that do can help guide you and help you secure your future.
By George Dutch
It’s Monday morning again! “How do you feel about going into work? Perhaps you’re having a hard time getting started. Write down right now 2-3 job duties that drag you down; you’d prefer to push them aside, and do them later in the day, or tomorrow…or never.” This is a simple conversation that you can have as a career professional with any client. Many of our clients will present us with a story about a bad job fit, which is often characterized with negative opinions about the job’s circumstances, such as lousy pay, a bad boss, a long commute, and so on.
But take some time to probe their story for more details about regular or frequent job duties. Here's a simple exercise you can use to bring more clarity into the situation. Ask them, what are the 5-10 job duties that they are expected to perform each day or week as critical job requirements? Get them to identify which job duties they enjoy and don’t enjoy. Ask them if they can remember a time when they looked forward to Monday mornings, in their current job, or in another job. If you have their resume handy, ask them to highlight the critical job requirements that they enjoyed performing on a regular basis in their previous jobs. Perhaps they procrastinate with starting or completing certain job duties. Get them to identify the job duties in their current and previous jobs where they procrastinated. Identify items (both positive and negative) that seem to recur in their performance evaluations, regardless of who does the assessment. Make a list with two columns: one of job duties that energized them, duties that they enjoyed performing consistently; and, another column, of job duties that drain them, duties that they push aside or procrastinate on. Then take their current job description and estimate how much time is spent each day or week performing job duties that drain them. If they are spending 40% or more of their time performing job duties that drain them, or duties that they chronically delay doing, they may be suffering from a job misfit in terms of their critical job requirements.
What is a good job fit? It may be helpful to remind your client that there is no such thing as a perfect job where one is 100% happy and satisfied all the time with their core job duties. The world is just not organized that way! However, many studies show that the key to career success is to limit the downside of a job to 40% of job duties. The remaining 60% of job duties should be organized around your client’s natural strengths, especially how well their talents and motivations correlate with their core job duties. In general, if we spend about 60% of work hours in a job fit, then our work will be challenging and will provide a sense of growth and fulfillment. Try to correlate your client’s natural strengths with specific job duties. Help them develop a job description aligned with what makes them happy and productive in the workplace, so that they can operate 60% of the time in a mode that comes naturally and effortlessly to them. This 60/40 split will energize them. This is job fit. However, we may also need to remind them of the likelihood that many times this 60/40 ratio may slip to 40/60 or worse, in which case they may feel drained by brief periods of routine work. This is nothing to be alarmed about as long as the ratio returns to 60/40 in due course; if it doesn't, they'll need to take action.
In performing this simple exercise with your client, you may discover that they do, indeed, have a good job fit. You can then turn your attention to the frustrating factors of their job circumstances. But if you and your client agree that there is a serious misalignment between their natural strengths and the critical requirements of their current job, you can then discuss opportunities for refashioning their current job into a better job fit, or finding a better fit with their current employer, or identifying other careers/jobs that will recognize and reward them for the job duties that energize them. At that point, an assessment may be in order, one that can match them to good job fits--specific jobs in specific work settings with the right combination of extrinsic and intrinsic factors to bring out the best in them and reward you for their strengths. A good career assessment can provide such matches with clarity. The information may be valuable in terms of developing options with their current employer or with a new career target.
If how you feel about going to work on a Monday morning is an accurate “thermometer” for measuring your job fit, then you can raise the temperature by helping your clients wake up excited about the coming day’s activities.
In his 1969 book by the same name, Dr. Laurence Peter formulated the following principle: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” It is based on the notion that employees will be promoted so long as they work competently until they reach a position where they are no longer competent and there they stay, stuck, unable to earn further promotions. This principle is famously played out in the popular TV series “The Office” by actor Steve Carroll, who portrays the role of Michael Scott, branch manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, Pennsylvania. If you watch the series, you may find it hard to believe that Michael was ever competent at anything! But the fact is that people are promoted because they are competent. And they are competent because they have a particular flair or talent or strength for performing certain job duties. Their work is valued so much that they are often rewarded with a promotion to a supervisory position.
However, the Peter Principle becomes active when a managerial position requires a set of skills that do not come easily or naturally to the person who has been promoted into it. For example, I have worked with a good number of engineers who excelled at troubleshooting technical problems, especially when they were left alone to work in their own way at their own speed to analyze a particular problem and design a solution, often building the solution with special tools and equipment. They were masters of a physical world of structures, machinery, and processes. Then they are promoted into a managerial position where they are required to collaborate with others on committees and make decisions through long meetings before moving those decisions up a hierarchy for approval. In the meantime, they must resolve disputes between employees who disagree on how to proceed; they must plan years in advance for potential scenarios and compete with their colleagues for scarce organizational resources, and fight about money and budgets—none of which they have a genuine interest in or a knack for dealing with. However, some engineers feel they must put up with this job misfit for the sake of a better compensation package, or the admiration of their peers, or the expectations of power, prestige, and status for someone their age. And, of course, it is very difficult for accomplished individuals to admit that they might not be good at everything they turn their hand to. Ego. Or, to put it in traditional terms: "Pride goeth before the fall." But, the simple fact is, not every individual is cut out for management. The American Management Association estimates that only one-third of individuals have a knack for core managerial duties.
Motivation is the key. If someone is not motivated by their core job duties, their performance will degrade, so that when the inevitable downturns of an economy occur, they may be laid off when their performance is compared to others who are suited to managerial duties and feel motivated by their work. Or, the level of job dissatisfaction fosters dis-ease that leads to physical illness, anxiety, depression or any number of stress-related disorders. Sure, we can learn managerial skills by taking courses, but just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we will do it. For example, you can learn how to do conflict resolution but if you avoid conflicting situations or highly charged emotional encounters then you will not excel in such situations.
Listen for talent clues. Helping our clients find their right job fit is never easy. But, in the end, guiding them into a managerial position when they are not suited for it does not serve them or you in the long term. Listen carefully to their stories. What parts of their experiences energizes them most?
- Do they come alive in situations during which they take an active role (high-involvement or high-touch) in managing the talents of people under their authority?
- Are they comfortable with authority and the inevitable stresses and strains that accompany it?
- Do they have a knack for selecting or choosing people, matching tasks and people, and tapping the strengths of those under them?
- Can they negotiate well with peers for competing priorities in their organizations, or do they tend to withdraw when they need to be assertive?
- Do they confuse leadership—the ability to motivate and inspire others to follow a cause, aim, purpose, or objective—with management, a talent for resolving conflict at different levels between corporate goals and union objectives, between stakeholder interests, contract disputes, supplier complaints, or putting out fires on the front lines of daily operations?
There are many paths to success. The one most healthy is the one most natural. Help your clients stick to their strengths. Help them navigate the world of work and advance in their careers efficiently and effectively. By doing so, you add value to their careers and to your business.
As career professionals, we know that the number one reason an employee leaves a job is because of a bad relationship with an immediate supervisor. This story comes in many shapes and forms. Undoubtedly, there are bad bosses out there. And, some workplaces are structurally dysfunctional. But each relationship is a two-way street, and most relationships break down due to poor communications which, in itself, is often a symptom of deeply rooted misunderstandings about what truly motivates us.
Old School. For example, if a particular manager has a directorial management style, they might conflict with an employee who functions best with ‘hands-off’ style management. The manager prefers to get the work done through the efforts of others--subordinates, assistants, associates--in the manner they, as the boss, determine is correct, appropriate, or effective. This is often referred to as an “old school” management style, or the familiar “command-and control” management style adopted from the military, from which, of course, many post-WWII managers were sourced. The employee, on the other hand, operates best under a manager who allows them to exercise independent control over their specific area of responsibility. They prefer a manager who lays out the goals and objectives for a project, then leaves them to get the desired result in their own way. The manager’s preferred style clashes directly with the employee’s preference for being managed! This is a recipe for workplace conflict. Unless both manager and employee have a vocabulary for communicating how they best function and what kind of situations motivate them, their attempts to communicate can quickly deteriorate into negative interactions, involving resentments, misunderstandings, petty squabbles, accusations, silent resistance, passive aggressive behavior, harassment, discrimination, and other common forms of unproductive workplace behaviors. As professional career guides, we can help our clients navigate the choppy waters of on-the-job relations by helping them focus on how they work best as managers or employees. The key to doing so is to help them step out of the volatile on-the-job circumstances, and tell stories about enjoyable projects at home or in the community.
How do they manage projects outside of work? When listening to your client stories, listen to managers describe situations outside of work where they took responsibility for accomplishing a goal or getting something done by actively managing the efforts of others, such as in volunteer projects through a social service club, a sports team, a church or synagogue, or a professional association. Do they actually step into such situations outside of work? If they do, they may have a natural managerial talent that they enjoy using. Are they equally “old school” in those situations? Or, do they adopt a different style of managing, perhaps as a team captain, where they act as an example to a team or put the team into action? Or, do they take on more of a coordinator role, where their interactions with subordinates are participatory rather than authoritative in nature? Or, do they tend to act and speak in a forthright manner as a leader causing others to follow them, or their cause, program, or mission? Or, are they adept at determining what sort of work people are suited for, and encourage them, and how their abilities can best be used in that situation? Some managers feel obliged to operate in a certain managerial style due to the corporate culture in which they work, but will gravitate to their more natural style during times when they are doing something they truly enjoy outside of work.
How do they prefer to be managed? Similarly, employees can learn what kind of management style they prefer by paying attention to the way they are managed in activities outside of their 9-5 job. Some individuals prefer continuous support from someone who touches bases frequently and offers directions and advice as needed. Others prefer oversight from someone who provides direction and support only at key points of a project, usually when a critical decision needs to be made. I know that I prefer a manager who provides me with direction and support at the outset of a new assignment or responsibility, then leaves me pretty much alone to carry it out. Some people are truly independent and thrive without any managerial direction. Still others function best with a manager who treats them as an equal, who works with them as though they were involved in a collaborative effort.
Vocabulary for harmony. The next step is to help them build a vocabulary from those positive experiences that will assist them to communicate to their colleagues how they best work, in order to mitigate the often destructive misunderstandings that arise when people do not know how they best operate with their natural talents and motivations. This kind of informed communication is a key element for resolving many workplace disputes.
By Kate Schaefers
Midlife, that hard-to-define life stage between youth and old age, is finally getting some respect. Long the butt of jokes and stereotypes, midlife is now fodder for research, partly driven by the sheer number of baby boomers moving through midlife, but also shaped by our expanding understanding of the aging process. New knowledge is coming from many fronts, including psychology, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, and even gerontology. This multidisciplinary approach allows us to take a nuanced view of midlife, and deepens our understanding of the joys and challenges that help shape the midlife experience. Of the many midlife myths, I’d like to dispel four of them.
Myth 1: Midlife Crisis is a common event. Pervasive in the popular psyche, “midlife crisis” is defined as a time of conflict and desperation, where aging is denied and defied. Research shows that this kind of crisis is not prevalent. For most, midlife continues to be a time of development, well-being, and resilience. Instead of a crisis, we tend to experience turning points – events such as death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, or illness - that compel us to reevaluate and perhaps shift direction. Turning points wake us up to our lives and motivate us out of complacency, but aren’t necessarily experienced as crises.
Myth 2: It’s all downhill from here. Midlife is seen as a time of loss – of physical vigor, and mental acuity. In reality, medical advances and preventative care have dramatically expanded life expectancy, and midlife can be a time of health, wellness, and heartiness. With respect to the aging brain, we now know that the brain continues to re-sculpt itself, creating new cells and developing new pathways. Adults in midlife and beyond actually perform better at some mental tasks, especially those that require complex problem solving. This is partly due to the influence of experience, but also due to the older brain’s ability to draw from both hemispheres. Our emotional circuitry also matures, so we become more adept at filtering emotions through the lens of experience.
Myth 3: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Many people go through major retooling at midlife, with still plenty of time to build a significant career. A career launched at age 45 will mean 20 years of contribution, assuming a traditional retirement age of 65. In today’s standards, 20 years is a long time for any career! Millions of people are making these kinds of moves. In the 2008 Encore Careers Survey, an estimated 5.3 to 8.4 million people shifted into an Encore career – a career that combines income, meaning, and social impact in the second half of life.
Myth 4: I have to have it all figured out before I take action. Traditional career counseling starts with self-knowledge, usually through some kind of assessment of skills, interests, values. The next step is to explore the world of work. Through a systematic, matching approach, viable options are identified and weighed against each other. While there’s lots of merit to a planned approach, people sometimes get stuck here. They assume there is one right option to uncover. Or they try to discover a true “calling” that will fulfill a life mission and provide purpose. Worse yet, they angst over the fact that they don’t have a “calling” and believe there is something wrong with them. The planned approach needs to be balanced with a willingness to try new experiences and take some risks. Instead of waiting for clarity from within, take small steps. If things don’t work out, no worries!
Career paths are rarely linear, and experimenting allows us to playfully try on new hats while limiting risks. Midlife can be a period of tremendous growth and potential. By embracing the shifts and opening ourselves to new experiences, we can create and recreate ourselves throughout the lifespan.
Brim, Ryff & Kessler (2004). How healthy are we? A national study of well-being at midlife.
Cohen, G. (2005). The mature mind. Basic Books.
Metlife Foundation/Civic Ventures (2008). Encore Careers Study.
Ibarra, H. (2003). Working identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career. Harvard Business School Press.
Lachman, M.E. (Ed) (2001). Handbook of Midlife Development. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Let’s not overlook the obvious when analyzing the stories of our clients. I am always amazed by the depth of information available through stories that, on face value, are often presented as simple or trivial activities enjoyed by our clients. For example, sometimes a client will mention how much they enjoy driving on a car trip. This simple activity might reveal a knack for operating machinery or equipment, or coordinating gears and pedals. Perhaps, they enjoy driving other vehicles, such as boats, snowmobiles, ATVs, forklifts, trucks, even airplanes. A knack for operating equipment or coordinating gears correlates with core job duties in many occupations. If they enjoy driving very fast, does that mean they are a ‘speed freak’ who loves to live dangerously? Perhaps, but it may also indicate a talent for making a fast, responsible decision, the same talent that correlates with certain requirements related to being decisive with a physical response as in paramedic, athletic, referee, military, and other applications.
In other cases, what the client claims to enjoy is the opportunity to observe the city scapes and landscapes they pass through on their car trip. They notice small things that others often miss, such as billboards, crops in fields, new flashing on homes in neighborhoods, or stickers on long haul transports. Police forces teach their recruits techniques of observation, but some individuals have a natural observing talent that correlates with core job duties involving investigations, or inspections, or monitoring. Just because a client has one kind of observing talent, it doesn’t mean they have more. For example, the talent for observing details in your physical environment isn’t the same as a talent for observing details in legal documents, technical manuals, and so forth. Some individuals are natural proofreaders, who can acquire a manuscript-editing ability, or paralegal skills. Others cannot stop their eyes from noticing details in blueprints or maps, and can acquire skills related to architects or general contractors, or military strategists or cartographer. If you question them further, you might learn that your client has a natural observing talent for seeing a 3-dimensional object or building from a 2-dimensional drawing. Reading mechanical drawings, or aerial photographs, comes easily to them because of this spatial perception talent, which is a core job duty for a mechanical engineer who needs to see a completed turbine from a drawing, or a fashion designer who can look at a pattern and see the finished dress.
Gathering and interpreting this data as career professionals is how we can add value to the lives of our clients. However, we need to exercise discretion and wisdom when advising clients on career matches. We can mine our client’s stories for clues to their right work but we must be careful not to extrapolate an entire career from one or two obvious talents. What matters in determining a client’s right work is their motivational pattern as a whole, not their individual variables. A client may have a natural talent for observing details in their physical environment but we should not leap to the conclusion that policing is an obvious career choice. It is enough to point out that their talent correlates with a core job duty of police officers to demonstrate the value such a talent has in the world of work. Other factors come into play when determining whether or not your client is suitable for police work. More information about their ambitions, personality, values, priorities, health condition, education, strengths, thoughts and feelings need to be taken into account for career decision-making.
Engaging your clients with what they do easily—telling their stories!--moves away from narrow assessments and towards a more holistic methodology that employs narrative counseling to help clients translate their natural talents and motivations into specific jobs or careers.
As career professionals, we often work with individuals who are seeking work but not motivated to take actions due, in some cases, to job misfit; that is, they hate their current job or are demotivated to seek a similar job. They want a different kind of job, but have no idea what else they can do. As career professionals, we can help them get started on finding a different path, by taking the following three actions.
First, we need to remind them that none of their current work experience is wasted. We can clearly see that they have put the cart in front of the horse (the horse being that part of ourselves that represents our natural strengths, vitality, drive, energy). We can help them re-connect with that authentic part of themselves and show them how to harness it to their tool cart, that part of their job experience that represents all the knowledge and skills they have acquired in their careers. Motivation is the natural result of putting the horse in front of the cart. In fact, the clues to our right work are often found in our childhood preoccupations. For example, in one study conducted by British behavioral scientists on the relationship between our desires in youth and adult success, 50 individuals were tracked over a period of 28 years, from the age of seven to 35. The result? Nearly all of the subjects wound up engaged in a professional pursuit related to their interests during the ages 7 through 14. While most strayed from these interests after childhood, the successful adults were those who found their way back to their childhood dreams by the age of 35, even if only as a hobby or avocation. Don’t you find that amazing? I do!
If you’ve read my book, JobJoy, then you know that I put a lot of emphasis on understanding what we did and how we did it during ages 7-14. What I have found over the years is that individuals who find jobjoy success early in life are often people who were lucky enough to have parents and other significant adults who recognized their natural talents and inclinations early in life, then helped nurture those talents into a specific vocation. For most of us, this does not happen. We tend to drift away from our natural inclinations and focus on learned or acquired values and behaviors that have more to do with the agendas of others, or economic trends. Most individuals settle for this kind of career and that's fine. However, if they reach an impasse, we have a choice to help them through it. Many of us fall victim to what the poet E.E. Cummings eloquently described: "To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best day and night into making you like everybody else is to fight the hardest battle there is and never stop fighting." I have found that many people lost this battle early in life and, by doing so, lost their memory of what they enjoyed most and did best as a child. The clues to our right work are always there in the details of our personal stories, our life history.
Second, ask your client to sit with you in a quiet office, no interruptions. Ask them to close their eyes, and quiet their minds. Ask them to let their thoughts drift back to childhood. Ask the following kinds of questions: What did you enjoy doing at age six or seven? What were the activities that gave you pleasure? How did the world open up to you? Over the next five years or so, what kinds of subjects did you gravitate towards in school and outside of school? How did you get the attention you wanted? What teachers influenced you the most? Who were your heroes? This might be difficult for some clients. Ask them to go home and take the time to go through family photos, watch home movies, and talk to parents and relatives. Invite them to bring a list of impressions and memories to your next meeting. One way to find jobjoy in life is to move back with conscious intention to what we drifted away from early in life.
Third, remind your clients that it’s not as difficult as they might think! The world rewards excellence. And our best chance for excellence is to develop our natural talents and motivations into a specific job or career—that’s the route to personal and professional success! People who excel in their jobs often make it look easy and effortless. Like Robert Redford in the movie ‘The Natural,” they seem to have a knack, a flair, a talent for the core job duty; the same way Redford’s character had a natural talent for throwing and hitting a baseball. This work is child’s play!
Do your clients think about changing jobs? The power to do so is right under their noses…well, behind their noses actually! Stored in their brains are memories about events and activities they truly enjoyed in life since childhood. Here are some tips for analyzing their life histories for key success factors that reveal work that is personally and financially rewarding. Get them to do a quick inventory from childhood years (ages 6-12), then teen years (ages 13-19), then young adult years (ages 20-29), then their thirties, forties, and so on. In each period, there are specific examples. Ask them to create a shortlist of their top 10 most enjoyable events. The power of those stories is in the facts, people, and events of their lives. These stories are like veins of gold that run through each life.
Mining gold, however, involves moving a lot of ore with tools and equipment to get at that precious metal. Similarly, mining the veins of gold in life stories is easier when you use the tool of writing. Emphasize that it is important to write about what is important to them, not what they did to please others. Help them identify those activities that gave them an intrinsic sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Above all, encourage them to be brutally honest about what is they truly enjoyed, as opposed to what they are simply proud of. They may be proud of certain accomplishments but there is often no real innate pleasure from the activity itself. For example, many people get high grades in school in order to please their parents, not because they truly love math, or history, or truly enjoy studying and doing homework.
It actually makes it easier for them to tell the story if they stick to a proven format. You may want to analyze or evaluate their stories for an accurate and reliable picture of their unique motivational pattern. Or, you may want to turn the exercise over to a personal story analyst to really nail down the essence of who and what they are in terms of work when they are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well. For example, their stories can be analyzed to identify and define Key Success Factors. Please understand that the factors critical to success are very different than personality traits, or the results you get from Myers-Briggs and other personality assessments. A personal story assessment can answer in very clear, concise and meaningful terms the questions: What are their natural talents that consistently bring satisfaction to them when they are doing what they enjoy most and doing it well? What is the subject matter that they gravitate to without even trying? What circumstances or conditions have to exist in the job environment to bring out the best in them? How do they naturally build relationships with others? How do these success factors combine to create an essential motivation; that is, the thing they are best at and best suited for in terms of work?
This accurate and reliable picture of their right work can be developed into an Ideal Job Description and matched to specific opportunities in the world of work. This opens up a new level of coaching and service for you as their career coach.
Which of the three relational categories do you think is best suited to sales positions? The client who most enjoys playing the field, meeting lots of new people, and interacting with others at least 80% of their time on the job? Or, the person who is a natural team player and invests most of his or her time and energy in maintaining relationships so that ties and bonds strengthen? Or, the solo artist, the person who loves to work about 80% alone in a concentrated manner on tasks requiring his or her expertise? The answer: all three are suited to sales positions, if they have a persuasive talent for closing sales!
The relational talent is not a selling talent. A relational talent helps us understand the kind of role our clients might be best suited for in the workplace. For example, the client who is multi-relational and tells you stories about how much they like to meet lots of new people at parties, concerts, social mixers, conferences, conventions, network marketing meetings, meet & greet nights, and so on, may fit well into the kind of sales environment that is stereotypical of the profession, i.e. cold-calling impulse-driven sales where establishing rapport quickly and easily is necessary in order to make the sale. Think of telemarketing, and how important it is to establish a personal connection in the first 30 seconds or so in order to make a sale; or the personal rapport necessary between a used car salesperson and a prospect; or, the trust that needs to be established quickly between a real estate broker and a buyer or seller.
Most sales positions are best suited for the natural team player because most sales are Account Management positions, in which a sales person has a group of accounts that they service. Their job is about maintaining relationships, getting to know their client or their client’s business really well, getting them to open up about their challenges and issues, in order to determine how the products or service they represent can help their client solve problems and attain their business goals and objectives. Account managers send out birthday cards to their clients, take them golfing a few times a year, do lunch on a regular basis—they maintain the relationship. Listen to your client’s stories to find out if they love to join teams, professional associations, family gatherings, and make key contributions to building up relational ties in those groups.
The expert who loves to work solo is suited to technical sales, where it is necessary to know a lot about a particular industry or service in order to sell into that space. If you are going to sell a nuclear reactor, you probably need a PhD in Physics in order to discuss features and benefits with engineers and physicists responsible for the purchase, installation, maintenance, and repair of such complex machinery and equipment. The expertise required for technical sales is usually acquired through many hours of solitary study and work. Listen for clues in their stories that reveal them seeking out opportunities to work alone in depth on personal or professional projects.
Of course, all three sales positions cover a spectrum of experience related to a particular industry, but listen as your clients reveal clues to their natural job fit for different job scenarios. Yes, we CAN do a job through sheer determination, even struggle. But when our natural strengths match the job requirements, we tend to excel, and make it look easy. What your clients do naturally and effortlessly is revealed through stories about times in their lives when they are doing something they enjoy, and do it well. As career professionals, all we have to do is listen and map those clues to job opportunities.
When clients tell stories about those times in their lives when they are doing what they enjoy most, they often reveal a load of information about their most natural way of building and maintaining relationships with others. The following info will help you recognize three categories of relational talents that may help you distinguish workplace issues that are draining or energizing your client. Remember, don’t read too much into one answer. What matters is a pattern of behavior, consistent over time in different situations. People don’t fit easily into categories; they tend to be more complex, nuanced, and subtle. Look for a pattern.
Joining Teams or Groups. Most work situations are organized around team projects. About 70% of the working population has a natural inclination to mix and match their skills with others towards a common goal. Do your client’s stories reveal an individual who constantly seeks out membership in social clubs, sports teams, professional associations, community services groups, churches/temples/synagogues, and so on? Natural team players tend to be sociable. Most of the time, they prefer companionship. Their idea of the best kind of holiday might be to visit the family cottage to enjoy regular meals and activities with family and friends in a relaxed setting. As you listen to their workplace stories, do you find they feel close to their co-workers? Do they prefer to work in an environment where they see the same people over and over? Do they enjoy going for coffee with the same bunch during breaks, or share meals and activities over lunch, or join them regularly after work for drinks or activities? Does this continued interaction increase their relational bonds? Now, ask them about activities they enjoy outside of work. Do the same relational behaviors show up? Do they hang out with a group of people at a club or a church? Do they gravitate to family gatherings or neighborhood events? If not, then the workplace behavior may be situational: they go along to get along. If your client’s stories do not ring the bell with these team player markers, and if they have a history of conflict or friction in the work place, listen carefully for clues to relational issues. Perhaps, they are one of the 30% who do not fit in with groups or teams.
Going Solo. If you find that your client tends to tell stories that show him or her working alone in a concentrated manner on a task or hobby without being interrupted by others, you may have someone who is happiest when they are completely in charge. They like to make all the decisions. They like to point to the results of their work and say, "I did that." That is because the natural inclination to go solo is a desire to develop and use expertise. They enjoy applying their "strong suit" to solving problems, producing results, or advising others. They like to draw others to them in order to share their expertise. They prefer to work 80% of the time on their own on a task with their expertise, even though they may be working on a task involving another person. They prefer to interact with others 20% of the time, usually sharing their expertise or knowledge. If they are not in a specialist role at work, they may express regret at not becoming a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, electrician, pilot, plumber, academic, reflexologist, or any career that requires the application of a concentrated specialty. Do not confuse this tendency for solo activity with a personality trait of shyness or introversion. These individuals are often articulate and outgoing as accomplished teachers or public speakers in their area of specialty. They love to learn and will say so frequently! They have a natural inclination to deepen relationships. Their idea of a great holiday might be to go on a cruise with their spouse, best friend (since grade school), or sibling, or parents. Why? Because when confined to the close quarters of a ship, they would get to know that person better. Listen for clues about their tendency to maintain personal autonomy in group environments. They can be fiercely independent. They often resist outside influence or supervision, and you do not feel comfortable on teams or in partnerships unless they can maintain independence. And for good reason, because they are often resourceful and self-contained, even highly creative.
Playing the Field. This person has a natural talent for quickly establishing rapport with all types of people on first encounters, and constantly seeks activities where they can meet lots of new people, such as parties, concerts, social mixers, conferences, conventions, network marketing meetings, meet& greet nights, and so on. They adjust easily to the differences in new relationships. Perhaps they have moved several times in their lives, and quickly made friends in their new neighborhoods. On the one hand, listen for clues in their stories that reveal their excitement in easily meeting new people; on the other hand, they are not motivated to maintain, let alone deepen, those new relationships. Repeated contact generally does not enhance the effectiveness of those initial contacts. This talent is displayed one-on-one or with a group. Their idea of a great holiday might be to go to Club Med by themselves for a week. Why? Because they can enjoy intense interactions with many new people with no obligation to follow up with letters, phone calls, or Facebook friendships. They are energized by the initial encounters. In general, these individuals like to spend 80% of their working day interacting with others, and 20% alone learning, writing, working on a task.
Quick Quiz. When listening to client stories, which category of relational talent would you put them in with the following info? When considering their Christmas card list, are they communicating with many people, just a few in their inner circle of family and friends, or just a very special few? When they sit next to someone new on an airplane, do they start and carry a conversation; or do they call or text somebody they know; or, do they prefer to read a book, or work an assignment? Given the opportunity, would they prefer to spend an evening one-on-one with a close friend they see on a frequent basis, with club or team members, or meeting new people?
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