Tag Archives: Career

Why You Should Want to Work With Smart People

I read, post and respond to a lot of questions on Quora.  It’s a great place to interact with others and learn.  And who doesn’t want to learn?  With the idea of learning in mind, I wanted to share one of my answers which addressed working with smart people.   The question asked was “What is the most annoying thing about smart people?”  While I realize smart people may be portrayed as annoying but you really should consider the alternative of being surrounded by, or even worse, working in organizations led by the less intelligent.

One of my all time favorite articles that addresses this question is from 2005 Harvard Business Review, entitled “Competent Jerks, Lovable fools and the formation of social networks.” It basically says that people consistently and overwhelmingly prefer to work with a “lovable fool” than with a competent jerk.  Now, by competent jerk, we are talking about smart people that are socially awkward.  You might even think they are a little arrogant.  Whatever the reason, you’ve found a way to dislike them.  But is this a good approach for you?  Is it best for the company?  Before we dive into the discussion, here’s what I’ve learned from smart people and why I would prefer to work with them as opposed to a “lovable fool.”

My first experience with smart people was in graduate school.  My advisor and I were about the same age.  He did all of his work at Purdue University.  He was one of those “never made a ‘B’ kind of people. He was different but he was smart.  He had ten students that he advised.  Intellectually, I probably ranked number 10 on the list.  I knew it and didn’t have an issue with it.  I knew there are two kinds of people in engineering graduate school: smart people and those who work their butts off. Well, you know where I fit in.  But, I had to graduate and I knew that smart people would help me get through it all.  They did.  I opened my mind to learning.  Sometimes I felt dumb because I just didn’t get it.  There was one engineering technique, called the standstill frequency response, which took me a year to understand.  No matter how hard they described it, I just was picking up what they were putting down.  Then, I’m working the lab and BAM, it just hit me.  I thought, wow, why was that so hard.  They helped me graduate.  I was much better off hanging around them as opposed to people who didn’t understand everything we were doing.  The benefits of being around smart people were real.  But this is college, right?  Try befriending a lot of dumb people and completing your degree successfully.  It just might be a little harder.

Years later, I worked in a company of 700 people, where over 400 of them held PhDs.  It was a Research and Development Consortium.  I jumped into it mostly to see if I could survive.  I knew how to learn and ask for help when I needed it.  The good thing was my coworkers were smart. I mean like “Masters from MIT and PhD from Berkeley” smart.  This type of atmosphere can be a little intimidating.  After all, your own intelligence is vetted very quickly.  But that shouldn’t be a problem.  I wasn’t as smart as they were and that was ok.  It became evident that I had to find the value I had to offer.  For the most part, it was I that benefited the most from what they had to offer.  Here’s what I learned about smart people.

  • They never knew enough.They constantly studied, experimented and learned about their area of expertise.  It turns out that this is the behavior that makes you an expert.
  • They debated when they had an argument.Managers don’t do this because feelings get hurt. But technical people argue around the facts. Ensuring the team is right is far more important than ensuring someone’s ego isn’t bruised. Do you really want to risk failure to save someone’s feelings (who shouldn’t have inserted them to start with)?
  • They didn’t contribute for the sake of it.If they didn’t know anything about the discussion, they stayed out of it. Diversity of thought is nice but it must be helpful to be worth consideration.
  • Unfamiliarity didn’t scare them.If they entered into a situation they had no experience with, they studied and learned what others have done in similar situations to get some idea what any particular action would result in.
  • They are always eager to help.I’ve never worked for so many people who truly saw the value others had to offer and often displayed that understanding by sharing their time to develop others.
  • Team success was more important than personal success.You’ve probably never seen this in business before but these professionals are heavily focused on achieving goals and creating success. They don’t focus on power and money.
  • Success was about effort.They didn’t hesitate to dedicate time and effort, which was usually defined by the difficulty of the task, not by the number of hours in the day.

To get a better perspective on smart people, I thought it necessary to assess working with the intellectually challenged.  This could be your “lovable fool.”  In this discussion, I would like to consider the impact these members could have on your organization, especially if they occupy influential positions.  If you’ve had any experience here, leave a comment and share your story. I’m sure you’ll find many who will appreciate it.

  • They make “gut” decisions. They avoid any objective or analytical approach to decision-making.  This could occur for many reasons, such as don’t know how to do the analysis, don’t understand the value of the analysis or don’t realize that they probably aren’t the first people to ever engage in any specific situation so there should be some learning that could occur from other companies’ experiences.  It’s the exercise of unfounded theory.
  • They have no creativity. They avoid thinking out of the box or engaging in creative methods.  This type of thinking creates risk and reduces their sense of security.  If they do something different and it all goes wrong, then they’ll have to take the blame for it (even though it was their decision).
  • They don’t use metrics. Metrics….smetrics! Who wants to know how well they are doing?  Using metrics is likely to get them called out for poor performance.  If they don’t establish any quantitative measures, no one can know how epic their fail really was.  What a philosophy! I never fail because I don’t measure what I’m doing.
  • They use feelings. Their decisions are driven heavily by the desire to avoid negative feelings. It’s about how they want to feel or what they don’t want to feel. For example, a person who feels anxious about the potential outcome of a risky choice may choose a safer option rather than a potentially more lucrative option.  Now, can anyone tell quantify the correlation between feelings and success?
  • They avoid accountability. They lack the motivation to monitor to their own decision-making.  Even when motivated, obtaining accurate awareness of their decision-making is next to impossible.  We still want to love the fool, and when they are in charge, we want them to love us.
  • They focus on self-preservation. To some extent we all do this.  But few of us have the ability to change the organization to ensure our own job stability.  Sometimes this pressure to self-preserve leads to good decisions for the individual but bad decisions for the organization, such as chasing short term profits to ensure they get their bonus.

Ask me if I miss working with smart people? Damn right I do. I’d much rather work with smart people.   Sure, sometimes you are humbled by how little you really know but I now view that as an opportunity to grow and learn.  If you don’t care to learn anymore, then you should never be offended by smart people.  After all, who doesn’t want to work with people who love to solve the hard problems?  As an entrepreneur running my own company, I want smart people working for me.  Mistakes cost my company money and threaten my future.  The fewer of those I have, they more financially stable the company will be.  In the end, you have to ask yourself this question “will smart people help the company grow?”  In my experience, they do.  If you don’t have a lot of experience working with smart people, you may ask yourself another question “will the intellectually challenged people negatively help the company grow?”  You don’t have to really answer this question from your own experience, as there are many examples of organizational failures to provide the evidence.  Some statistics show that 95 percent of companies fail before 10 years of operation.  These failures happen very often.  They can drive companies into the ground with poor decision-making, which I’ve witnessed way too often. They can also wreck a company by chasing their own financial gain.   All of these turn out to be detrimental to any successful career you try to build because you fall victim to things you can influence, impact or control.

One last thing to consider, if you’re working hard to earn numerous graduate degrees that create the perception that you’re brilliant, you might want to consider in your career planning the idea that the world may not see your brilliance in a flattering light.  As you know, the brilliant people don’t always rise to the top and lead organizations….unless they create their own company (which is a discussion for later).

Where Does Opportunity Grow?

During a recent speech to college students, I was asked several questions at the end that told me they were searching for the source of opportunity.  Who isn’t it, right?  There are so many possible career paths that this is really a hard question to answer.  I decided to take a look at my own customer base to get some idea where opportunities have come from.  Here’s what I found.

First, let me say that this is not statistically accurate.  This is only my assessment of my own business and I don’t recommend you extrapolate it too far.  It’s intended to provide some insight into possible locations for your next opportunity or, at least, provide support for a strategy.

To understand where success was coming from, I took a look at the pre and post profiles of all of my past clients.  I was particularly interested in reviewing what they wanted and how they went about getting it.  Then, I looked for commonalities in their approach.  The graph below shows the results.  Note that I grouped the opportunities by strategy.  The “sit and wait” strategy is one where a certain amount of effort is initially expended before any opportunity can be obtained.  For example, many clients come to us seeking a raise or promotion in their existing company.  They had accomplished many things in their jobs and even built a great reputation.  Yet, this effort didn’t seem to lead to any major gains in income.  So many people couch themselves in this type of situation for years; that is, they settle for a job when they want a career.  It’s a low return proposition.  If you’ve been in a company for years and haven’t reeled in any great opportunities, “sit and wait” is probably the only method that will really work for you, but why waste the good years of your life on that approach.

The second bar on the graph was from business owners who chose to invest in SEO, online marketing, etc.  It does provide results, 6.5% in this case, but you can’t make huge leaps and bounds with it.  You might think I wouldn’t be saying that this since my company does offer such services.  I’m just letting you know what we’ve learned.  That’s what a coach does.  As for job seekers, we see many of those.  However, their results of creating ideal profiles in social media space don’t provide those huge returns you may read about on the web.  There’s just too much competition.

When you look at the graph, you don’t really see big success until you reach the “Go Get It” strategies shown in Green.  In reviewing these clients, their strategy involved two very important things:  people and action.  It was striking to see the improvements in success as our clients engaged in activities directly with real people, not the virtual ones.  Opportunities are more likely to be found or created when you are directly in front of people, not connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook.

People do business with people they know and trust.

With our entrepreneurial group, we’ve seen considerable success creation when business owners are connected, such as with partnering to sell complementary services to expand their customer base.  Each owner could easily chase new customers on the web, but it’s much faster when you directly engage with a known group of buyers.

Lastly, action is a big key to building greater success.  Earning a degree, starting a company or getting a new job in a new industry seemed to give our clients feelings of great success.  I suspect much of this is due to the fact that these very intentional and all-encompassing activities put the full use of their power and talents to work.

opportunity

One of my favorite speakers, Jim Rohn, once said “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”  Constant action with people will bring you your greatest success.  Remember, people will allow you to do anything you want.  If you want to sit and wait, they’ll let you do just that.  They might think that’s what you want to do.  If building greater success in life is what you seek, you have to define it and then go find people who can help you get it.

Opportunity is everywhere.  Where are you looking?

Here are a few lessons from my analysis to keep in mind as you consider how to approach new opportunities.

  1. Be active. I know updating social profiles and networking online are touted as the keys to greater success. They are important but it really isn’t an active process because it relies on someone finding your profile and viewing it.  Most people on LinkedIn are looking to receive opportunities, not give them away.  What are you doing today?
  2. Engage with people. Business started out with direct interactions between people.  It’s still the most effective way.  You can ignore an email but it’s a little harder to ignore a face-to-face request.  Who did you reach out to today?
  3. Change methods. If your current methods aren’t working for you, change them.  Don’t stay in a job for 5 years waiting on a promotion.  Go find one somewhere else.  What changes have you made today?
  4. Consider a coach or mentor. Most people use coaches and mentors because they push them to action.  Find someone who will help guide and push you to do what you should be doing on your own.  Eventually, you’ll build the habits you need to manage your career.  Who is helping you find your opportunity?
  5. It’s a lifestyle. Pushing yourself to build your dreams into reality requires constant effort.  Most of us create new goals once we achieve old ones, encouraging ourselves to move onward and upward.  The habits you create in chasing opportunity will serve you well your whole life and create the perception that others will develop of you.  How do others see you?
  6. Assess your surroundings. Having studied high performers for many years, I’ve found that they level of success you achieve is a function of the success achieved by those around you.  If you surround yourself with high achievers, you’ll become one or they’ll kick you off the team.  Who is on your team?

Your opportunity is out there. 

What are you waiting for? 

Go Get It!

Maintaining Motivation in 2015

HOW CAN YOU STAY MOTIVATED IN THE FACE OF SO MUCH CHANGE AND CHALLENGE?

Most individuals don’t reach the success they desire for many reasons.  Some never really create goals or a path to achieving them.  Some procrastinate, while others can’t overcome the fear of the unknown.  Still some succumb to distraction and deviate their actions before completing their tasks. These forces push us off track so that we never achieve our goals, which may lead to underachievement, stagnant career mobility,  decreased job satisfaction and more.   Here are a few steps that will help you maintain your motivation in the new year and begin developing a process for achieving your goals.

Know your barriers.  When it comes to your goals, why don’t you achieve them?  You must first understand why you don’t reach them to develop a process for maintaining momentum. My biggest challenge is that I see too many opportunities to create new products or services. I’m approached by people all the time to create something new.  I only have so much energy to devote to my activities and if I spread myself too thin, all activities will suffer.  Luckily, I’m aware of this challenge and force myself to focus on the most important activities at the time.  I write all ideas and opportunities so I don’t lose them or if my plans change and I free up some time which I can devote to something new.  So what are your barriers?  Is it courage, knowledge, skills, or network?

Create workarounds.  Once you understand your barriers, you’ll need to develop a process for getting around them.  Here are a few workarounds for some common barriers.

  • Courage – Every successful person battles this. No one knows all the answers to problems you’ll face but having the courage to push through each issue is the key to reaching success.  You know people who have done some great things.  Contact them and ask for support.  They’ll happily share their story with you.  Surround yourself with people who don’t let your barrier get in the way of their success.  They’ll show you how to deal with it.
  • Network – This is cited as the most challenging barrier for most people I work with. It is also the easiest to overcome.  You just need a simple process for contacting influential people every day.  It will require discipline, creativity and persistence.  The goal here is to find people who can influence your path and continue to contact them until they respond.  You may run into their gatekeepers first but keep pushing to get to your desired audience.
  • Knowledge – This is very common too. People often say they don’t know what to do.  Well, I can assure you that doing nothing won’t get you there either.  Too often I run into issues I know nothing about.  It’s not really a barrier.  It’s an opportunity to learn something new.  Finding resources for learning are everywhere.  You can search online, libraries, subject matter experts, friends, or colleagues.

I talk about motivation a lot.  Why?  According to the research of Dr. Anders Ericsson, motivation is the most significant predictor of success. In simple terms, Dr. Ericsson found that experts in many walks of life, whether sport, music, chess, dance, or business, had put in the most hours at their craft.  You might be aware of the concept he coined; that is, the rule of 10,000 hours.  This is really important for those who remain in their field for a large portion of their career.  In such cases, ability becomes less important and motivation grows to be the most important factors.  It enables you to able to pursue change in the face of obstacles, boredom, fatigue, stress, and the desire to do other things.

However, for today’s young professionals, change seems to be the flavor of the day.  Most of these professionals don’t experience 35 years in the same company or even the same field.  There are two forces that are influencing the fluidity of today’s careers: the company and the individual.  Both entities feel the internal and external forces for change and respond to them.  With so much change occurring, professionals must have sufficient motivation to be able to grow sufficient positive motivation and minimize the negative motivation in their quest for their own success.  Both types of motivation can be a barrier, such as too little positive internal motivation and too much external negative motivation.   Look at the matrix below and create your own matrix to help you remember the factors that maintain your proper level of motivation.

motivation matrix

The external factors are outside of your direct influence but do affect your performance.  High performers value respect and if it isn’t present in their environment, they will be heavily de-motivated.  Similarly, if organizations are led by arrogant or micromanaging leaders, it will bestow feelings of insecurity upon its best performers and will result in lower performance.    It’s critical that you understand that there are many factors that impact your motivation, not just one or two things.  We are always looking for the ideal environment.  In a sense, we overlook the good things that are present and seek out the things that are absent.  For example, you might work in a company that provides great perquisites like travel, employee events, etc. but don’t provide bonuses, pay raises or promotions.  Eventually, the things that are missing will drive growth in dissatisfaction.  You must take time to analyze your environment to understand what you don’t have and then find ways to provide them.

The chart below shows you the ways I deal with motivation issues.  I use internal sources to fight thoughts of inadequacy, inferiority and so on by establishing goals and creating tangible proof that I’ve achieved them (e.g. books, articles, developing college classes).  Such tangibles provide me sufficient validation that I’m achieving my success. Then, feedback from my external sources keeps me focused on the quality and value of these tangibles.  It’s a simple “checks and balances” system for me.

motivation matrix 2

If you fail to assess these factors, your motivation will fluctuate and be driven by your environment or you can take steps to assess what you need and put these resources in place to ensure you’re always highly motivated to reach your goals.

The only question now is “who will you be?”

MY RESUME IS ALIVE!

Over the years, I’ve done quite a few resume reviews and updates. Typically, professionals are just asking to update their resume for the things they’ve recently accomplished. Often, this is a job title or company change. But how often do you add new things to the resume that give your product (i.e. YOU) more functionality? Sure, employers are interested in what you’ve done but they really want to know what you can do for them. There is a simple strategy for turning your resume into a powerful marketing paper for your career. If you’re not updating your marketing materials (e.g. resume) every year, you’re working on becoming obsolete.

At the end of each year, I like to engage in a little marketing strategy planning. I take a look at my resume and compare myself to many profiles I see online, like LinkedIn. I compare my education, skills, products and network with others who have similar backgrounds. Then, I ask myself one simple question, “Do I stand out?” If not, then I try to determine where I need to build my resume.

Education is an easy one. If I want to move up and everyone like me has a master’s degree and I don’t, then I might consider earning one. I like to see what types of degrees other professionals have in my position. Maybe my degree doesn’t provide all of the knowledge I need and another type of degree might make me a little more equipped to compete for the next level. While it’s easy to determine what I need, planning in my busy life is another story. So, I review this every year but may not engage in a degree right away. I may simply search for free classes online (MOOCs) to learn the things my peers already know.

Skills are always in need. What new skills do you need to develop each year? It’s no longer possible to develop a specific set of skills (as through your collegiate program) that will last your whole career. The needs of business change rapidly and companies seek many skills to meet those needs. Years ago I began paying closer attention to changes companies where experiencing and responded by building skills that would make me capable of helping them meet those needs. At one point, I saw the need for writing skills, so I began writing books. At another time, I saw the need for entrepreneurial skills, so I started my own company. By engaging directly in an activity, you can learn a great deal of the skill required to be good at it. It doesn’t mean you’ll be the best at it but you will understand it in greater detail. While it’s difficult to reinvent yourself completely after you’ve invested a lot of time in your primary skills, it is possible to enhance your offering by adding new functionality every year.

Contacts are the lifeblood of your career. While your references might not appear on your resume, they play a huge role in your access to opportunity. When I look at those LinkedIn professionals I’d like to emulate, I focus on their contacts. What titles do they have? What size companies do they work for? What alumni associations do they have? Naturally, we have a tendency to connect with people who are just like us, so we can relate to them more easily. Is it possible that this could be limiting our success? It’s certainly something to consider.

While the holidays are great times to consider the things we want to do next year, you should take some time to reflect on who you are and find a few areas that you can improve. No, I’m not talking about losing weight or whitening your teeth, although appearance is important too. I mean that about some developing some knowledge, skills or abilities that would make your more interesting to your employer or future employers.   Then, after you’ve begun building the newer you, update your profile and resume to reflect your changes.

Your resume (and social profiles) are a reflection of who you are. Let the world know that you are a vibrant, active, growing professional who is bent on continuous improvement. At the very least, you may just find something that will become a lifelong hobby, bringing you joy and happiness that your current job doesn’t offer. That will certainly bring you more balance in life.

5 Steps to Achieving Maximum Benefit from Your MBA

Earning the MBA, at any point in your life, requires a substantial commitment in time. As a young student fresh from college, time is a considerably more abundant resource; however, as a seasoned professional with numerous responsibilities, such as those accompanying a full-time job, family, or both, you must focus on an efficient utilization of many resources to achieve the maximum effectiveness in your professional and academic development. Too often we become so involved in just completing the tasks necessary to earn the degree that we fail to truly prepare ourselves for life with the degree.

The MBA, as we are told, is designed to have a huge impact on our lives. To reap these rewards, we stress ourselves out for two years trying to balance the school work, family commitments and job responsibilities. Once it’s all over, our expectations are that the accolades will pour in all by themselves. If we’re looking to change jobs, we update our LinkedIn profile so recruiters can find us. If we want to move up in our current company, we simply wait for management to hear the news of our graduation before coming to our desk to offer us a new opportunity to support them or maybe even join their ranks. This is the MBA dream, but unfortunately, it’s very far from the truth. The reality is that success is surrounded by an enormous layer of competitiveness. The MBA can tear into this layer and bring you closer to your dreams but it can’t do that by itself. Earning an MBA is a great feat but it is no guarantee of any level of success that is simply derived from its possession. Achieving success requires a strategy and some real planning. The following steps will help you do just that.

  1. Determine your goals before you begin your program. Write it down.

Writing your goals down triggers a response in the brain called “reticular activating system” that can create a sense of awareness of opportunities that can help you get closer to your goals. The unconscious mind will continue to focus on the direction you set in your written goals even when you aren’t consciously thinking about it. The reticular activating system will filter out those things that aren’t important. It will keep you in tune with events around you that may help you achieve your goals and will keep pushing you until the image that you have in your head of what your real success looks like is equivalent to what is physically present in your surroundings. Have you ever had an epiphany or have a salvo go off in your head? That’s your brain telling you that the situation you are currently in holds an opportunity that will help you get closer to a goal. Writing your goals down even has benefits when you aren’t even conscious. As an engineering student, I would often awaken during the night with the solution to class assignments. But how could that be if I was asleep? It’s because your subconscious does the real brain work. Here’s how you can tap into that.

Determine what you want from your MBA and write it down. Try to be very specific in defining these goals. Keep them challenging but achievable. Perhaps you want a raise, promotion or job change. List what they are, how long it may take to get there, what resources you need, who can help provide those resources, etc. Put specific dates for completion of these goals. Then, create a plan on how you will go about achieving each goal. Review these every day so that your mind stays focused on what you need to do. Celebrate completion of tasks and especially major goals. Mark them off the list when done. Each little success provides additional motivation as they cause the brain to release chemicals that make you happier, healthier and more driven to reach your goals. If you don’t have detailed plans for your career with your MBA, you should realize that it most likely won’t do anything for you.

  1. Seek guidance from other MBAs.

Take the time to get to know other MBAs. You should be engaging MBAs long before you begin your MBA program. Working MBA professionals can help you identify trends in industry. Top tier universities provide data to show you how their graduates are placed in industry but most don’t give you a clear picture of how successful you can be with their MBA. Most MBA graduates want to get a management position or change careers entirely. Therefore, the best way to understand the challenges that are specific to your Alma Mater is to consult with the alumni. If the university doesn’t have an alumni group, find graduates by using social media, such as LinkedIn. Then, tell them your story and ask for advice. MBA professionals can also help you understand the finer details in utilizing your MBA to create the success you expect. The most important information they can share will actually help you establish the proper expectations. The MBA isn’t capable of giving you that meteoric rise to the top of your company because many other factors come into play when you get to those first levels of the senior management ranks (e.g. Director, VP) that have nothing to do with your credentials.   Working MBAs can tell you what factors are important in their industry or specific company. Getting the most out of these new connections requires a thorough understanding of what you want from your degree. Once you complete the first action listed above, writing your goals down, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask from those MBAs who have gone before you. One last note, to get the best information, choose graduates who are just a few years ahead of you as their lessons are still fresh in their mind. Consulting an MBA graduate from over 20 years ago will be helpful but it isn’t likely to be advice you will use immediately.

  1. Share your thoughts and ideas.

As you go through your MBA and transition into a long working career, you’ll develop a broad network of knowledge professionals. The most important thing you can ever do to improve your career is to become active in this network. Before you begin your program, talk with MBA professionals to find out what issues managers are facing. Then, when you begin, share these ideas with professors and develop your own opportunity to find solutions for these problems. Investigate opportunities to perform research in these areas, which helps you develop expertise and recognition for such knowledge. Research quite often affords opportunities to publish the results of your efforts in professional journals, conferences, the university magazine, white papers and more. If research isn’t available, work with your professors to find specific companies that have issues they have communicated to the university and that you can address. If that fails, reach out to professional organizations (even student versions) to see where you can build new knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s important to note that while the MBA teaches you to solve business problems, this doesn’t add value to what you have to offer. The real value you offer comes from actually solving problems. Collaborating with professors, alumni groups, and student and professional organizations are great avenues for collecting ideas on what you can do to build your value. Today’s level of competition requires graduates to have already demonstrated their value before graduation. If you wait until you graduate to begin this development or base your value on the idea that you have the skills to solve problems, you’ll find yourself struggling to compete.

  1. Create opportunities to increase your knowledge in areas in your plan.

As previously mentioned, building your value is done by providing tangible proof of your skills. It’s also possible to build value by demonstrating your knowledge base.   Companies have problems and they want help resolving them. Reading articles from industry journals and other periodicals are a good way to boost your understanding of the problems that are currently plaguing businesses. Joining professional organizations is another great strategy. Most local branches of professional organizations provide access to industry professionals through conferences, presentations and meetings. A good approach is to join one of these organizations and seek an active role. This will put you closer to those already working in the field that can provide you a much better understanding of the field than articles can. Use these interactions to not only gather as much information as possible, but setup opportunities to help specific companies solve some of their problems. Companies like to hire to fill a specific need so find out what some are and fill them. Don’t forget to find ways to document your achievements so that you have stories to tell and documentation to prove it (e.g. published articles).

  1. Update your goals and progress often.

As you go through your goals, make notes on areas that are a natural strength or a weakness for you. This information, along with other pertinent information from professors and business professionals, should help you steer your career in the right direction. If your performance isn’t the best in your chosen area of focus, it becomes critical that you collaborate with other professionals in that field to determine if you need to improve your abilities in that area or you may be just fine with what you already know. This is even more critical if you plan to use your MBA in a different field than you are currently working in. You should develop a list of skills and experiences required to excel in your new field and then work on checking each one off until you have tangible proof that you have what it takes (all before graduating). Companies don’t want to hire professionals that are looking to make a transition, as this is a little risky. But, if you can provide sufficient evidence that you already have been demonstrating the skills, knowledge and abilities required for some time, then you can show you aren’t making a transition and you are a seasoned professional.

The MBA degree is just a credential. You’ll soon realize this once you’ve been in business for a year or two. It doesn’t really make you stand out. Why? It moves you into a group of professionals who already have a graduate degree. How do you stand out from them? As you move up in organizations the competition grows evermore fierce. Those who avoid the steps identified above and lean on the fact that they just have an MBA will experience stagnation and a loss of career mobility. No one is watching out for your career but you. If you put no effort into it, you’ll get nothing out of it. If you have an MBA or are working on it, you’ve obviously got a little fire in you. Use this fire to plan and implement your next steps after graduation. Create a habit of setting goals and reaching them. This will establish a history of tangible successes which will make you happy. After all, when it comes to your career, this is the person you should focus on.

The MBA Guide to Mentoring

Has your career mobility stifled?  Has your salary flatlined?  Perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of trying to achieve your career success individually.  As a high achiever, you already know that many have achieved greatness.  We’ve read about them and you find tons of stories about they continue to do great things.  But they don’t achieve these things merely with their own effort.  They have help.  So many of try to gain success by impressing others.  Unfortunately, the ones we’re trying to impress aren’t really concerned with our success, only their own.  So how do you select the right people?  You must search and find those who are willing to invest in YOU.

Here are a few statistics to consider:

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes in this article from August 2011:  “The Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 880 high-potential employees. More than 25 percent said they planned to change jobs within the next 12 months. That’s potential attrition 2.5 times greater than just five years earlier. Among the dissatisfied, 64 percent said their current employment experiences are having little impact on their development.”

Inc Magazine says CEOs can’t find the talent they need.

In an overview of its “2011/2012 Talent Management and Rewards Study, North America,” Towers Watson says, “…almost 60% of North American companies are having trouble attracting critical-skill employees, an increase over 2010.”

In an article from The Wall Street Journal on reverse mentoring: “In an effort to school senior executives in technology, social media and the latest workplace trends, many businesses are pairing upper management with younger employees in a practice known as reverse mentoring. The trend is taking off at a range of companies, from tech to advertising.”

For my friends in the UK:

Sage surveyed more than 11,000 small and medium sized businesses in 17 countries across the world, to find out their attitudes towards business mentoring. Here’s what they found.

  • 93% of small and medium sized businesses acknowledge that mentoring can help them to succeed.
  • 28% of small and medium sized business currently make use of business mentors
  • 27% of business decision-makers would be most likely to go to people they know for business advice and mentoring.
  • 9% of business decision-makers would go to ‘select business mentors’ as their first option for business advice.

There are so many things you can learn from mentors.  Think about it.  Why do you read a book?  To learn from others.  But you can’t usually get access to the author to understand how to mold their advice from the book to fit your situation.  But mentors can help you do that.  While it’s hard find statistics that identify the impact mentors have, some mentoring statistics show that professionals who have used a mentor, earn between $5,610-$22,450 more annually, than those who perhaps didn’t use a mentor.  That’s a pretty good benefit, at the very least.

Stop chasing dreams by repeating lessons others have already learned.  Your career should be a learning experience but don’t make it one full of things you wish you hadn’t learned.

Before you head off to find a mentor, check out our latest ebook release, The MBA Guide to Mentoring.

Success: An Unborn Dream

The past few decades have ushered in new challenges for younger (and even older) generations in creating success in their lives. Now, we can point to a sluggish economy for providing fewer opportunities; that is, less promotions, pay raises and job openings from companies who are tightening their belts. Perhaps we can blame the rising cost of tuition as a way to limit the success to only those who can afford it. Maybe you can blame companies for eliminating training, canceling their management development programs and even foregoing their tuition reimbursement programs. Well, we can’t forget the reduction in the number of startups, as those represent a decrease in opportunities as well. What about people working longer rather than retiring? On and on we can go.  Are there real challenges for creating success today? Of course there are and there always have been.  But these aren’t the barriers that are really slowing us down. The ones that have the most impact on our career mobility are self-generated.

Clarity. Most of us want more success. Yet, when it comes to defining it, we struggle to put even a simple description to it. Now, this still doesn’t deter us from working hard to gain recognition and reward. In fact, we will overlook the fact that we don’t really have a destination we are seeking for many years. Naturally, a lack of a definition of what we want to achieve and maybe even when we want to achieve it forces us into a journey where our only reward for our effort becomes stress and disappointment when we don’t get something in return for our efforts. How long does it take for you to get frustrated? It really depends on your tolerance level. I’ve seen many MBA graduates sit in their same jobs for many years after graduation waiting on their rewards. If you can’t define what you want, it’s almost impossible to identify the tasks you need to take to get it. It’s also quite challenging to identify what others can do to help you.  “See” what I’m saying?

Passion. You’ve surely heard all the advice about following a career path you have a passion for. If you follow your passion, success will follow. That advice has always irritated me.   But, that’s because for many years I hadn’t been following my passion. Within 3 to 6 months of working in a new job, the novelty would be gone. At this point, I’d begin looking to create a little excitement in my work, maybe it was a new project or traveling to a new place. I had to have something to break the monotony. In just three years or less, I’d be stressed to the point where I had to make a change. It wasn’t my passion. While I didn’t clearly define my destination to my consciousness, my subconscious was looking out for certain accolades in my environment and when I didn’t get them, my satisfaction decreased to the point where something had to give. What’s your passion? What signs do you see when you aren’t living out your dreams?

Boundaries. So many of us build boundaries around ourselves but still hold expectations that assume our possibilities are without bounds. I understand my boundaries. I’m not a single kid who can go anywhere and do anything.  I’m married with three children. My kids are entering high school now and I want them to have a stable surrounding. I wouldn’t entertain a job in another state. So, I’ve limited my own opportunities. We all do this to ourselves to some degree. Some limit themselves geographically. Some do it by job title or salary (minimum salary, of course). You might also limit yourself by remaining in the same industry. The problem with these limitations is that we tend to forget they exist and that we’ve chosen them.  Then, the only time we make a change is when our happiness is lost and we must change something to find it again.

Determination. Malcolm Gladwell proposed the law of 10,000 hours in his book, Outliers, which basically suggests that it will take you ten years of intentional effort to hone your craft. In the 1970’s, where people held “long” jobs, ten years would have been enough time to make a considerable impression on your company. However, today, job tenure is about 4.4 years. In other words, by the time you craft your skills, you’ll have gone through two companies and will be on your third. Granted, organizations are transforming themselves at alarming rates and are forcing such change, it will take you longer to build your expertise. As Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton, says “For some reason I don’t understand, employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to.” Such changes will increase insecurity, volatility and risk. Staying true to your cause will be challenging, as the changes you have little influence on will act to redirect you when you least desire it. But that’s business today.  It requires more determination than ever.

Our dreams of success are influenced heavily by our surroundings. From the commercials we watch on TV to the Internet to our neighbors, our dream is constantly bleeding through the lines and off the canvas. Fortunately, reality steps in and gives us a gentle nudge and reminder of where we really are. Our success isn’t simply a victim of circumstances, unless you want it to be. It can be planned. It can be changed. It can be improved. You simply have to develop your dream by giving your mind an image of your desired life, making changes when the happiness of work is gone and no desirable future is in view, and setting goals that are in sync with your own established limitations. Lastly, if you really want to achieve your dreams, you will. You’ll give it everything you have. You’ll find all the answers. You’ll get all the help you need. You won’t give up until your dream materializes. That is, if you really want it. Otherwise, you’ll be forever stuck in your own unborn dream.

The MBA Nightmare

Here’s a story that might keep you up at night. I was talking with a client who had graduated with his MBA just a year ago. He was upset that things had not changed for him in his current company. No raise. No promotion. No new opportunities. In fact, no one even recognized that he earned his MBA. “My job doesn’t require an MBA but I have one. Now I worry that my current employer will see me as overqualified, likely to get bored and leave, further damaging my career mobility,” he explained.

He also heard that if he doesn’t move up soon that recruiters will think he’s not a real go-getter. I had to ask about that. He felt that while he was working his day job and earning his MBA at night, he would be viewed as a high achiever. However, since he graduated and stayed in the same job he was in before starting his MBA, he would be considered somewhat “unmotivated” if he remained in that job for several years.   “Wouldn’t employers wonder why I went through the effort and money to earn the MBA and then did nothing with it?” He worried that his job title wasn’t representative of his skill sets and felt that employers would avoid him because he wasn’t working towards his potential. The one degree that was supposed to offer a buffet of opportunity, career growth and money failed to deliver on all accounts.

That’s his story. What do you think? Have you seen that before? Are you wondering if things went according to his plan? Did he fail to plan? Did the college fail to help him? Did his company fail to utilize his talents? Who’s to blame for his stagnation?

This is not a good place to be. It’s not a good feeling and eventually it can destroy your job satisfaction and happiness.   So what went wrong? Here’s a few observations.

Too much hope. Too many students believe that the MBA experience will provide for their needs. What are their needs? Many identify money and opportunity as their main reasons for earning an MBA. But how does spending two years of your life and $80,000 meet these needs. If you consider that you give the college money and work your butt off for two years with only a piece of paper to show for it, you might feel the need to rethink this approach. You don’t get money at the end of the program. You get a bill. The agreement you have with the school is the opportunity to learn new skills from professors. It’s not a guarantee that you will. You have to put effort into it. That’s all. If you want anything beyond that, you have to go get it yourself. Working professionals who earn their degree have the expectation that their current company will recognize them, reward them and give them a new office beside the CEO. If you want to understand the probability of this happening, look around. Connect with MBA professionals and ask about their experience. They’ll tell you that it doesn’t happen. Why would I give you more money to do a job that doesn’t require an MBA to start with? You were hired to do that job. If you want to go develop yourself further, that’s great but I still need you to do the job I hired you for. Hope is not a strategy. You can’t wait on something to happen.

Lack of action. If you consider that you wanted money and opportunity from your MBA, you must realize that the college can’t give that to you. That’s not what they do. They educate. That’s it. Move on. You need a company to do that or you need to start your own. My client was sitting in a job with a big bill and the same needs he had before starting the MBA. He hasn’t filled his needs yet. So why did he stop his pursuit? It was obvious that the mere possession of the MBA was insufficient. It’s a credential that has value. That’s why you spent time and money on it. But if you are in an organization that doesn’t care, it doesn’t have value to them and your needs won’t be met. So why are you still waiting on them to reward you? It won’t happen. Do you think that waiting longer will help? Go-getters are always in action. They do what they can with what they have. They don’t stop until the needs are met. Then, they find new ones and start all over.

The wrong attitude. Growing your career is tough. There are a lot of barriers that are put in front of us. Sure, some kids grow up in luxury and have free entry to the top echelons of organizations. For those of us who don’t, that doesn’t matter. We have to build our own success. Education is just a part of the journey. There is never a point in the journey where we can simply rest on our credentials.   This week I worked with numerous professionals who were laid off. Their company is struggling to survive. These professionals had law degrees, engineering degrees, CPAs, etc. They are smart people and yet they have just experienced what appears to be a setback. What do you do? Just stop working? No. You must realize that you have value and you must search to find someone who will pay for that value. The wrong attitude is to simply pretend that you are satisfied with where you are. You have to satisfy those needs because they won’t go anywhere. They will keep screaming louder and louder, until you respond to them. Have you ever wondered why your life isn’t filled with people who want to make your life a huge success? It’s because people are trying to fulfill their needs and create their own success. The wrong attitude is to believe that someone else can give you your happiness. They are searching for their own.

Gaining success with an MBA, or any degree, requires work. Define what you want and how each credential can help you get there. The MBA gives you knowledge, skills and abilities. It does not differentiate you from others. There are 150,000 new MBAs every year. Your differentiation comes from the value you can provide to others. Your value is driven by your desire to build success, even if only one small step at a time. It is the accumulation of all of these small steps that put your career motion and move you further to your goals. The MBA is a tool that can be used to build a better career. You have to swing a hammer to drive a nail. Drive enough nails and you can build a house. Sure, it takes time and effort…but it’s worth it. It meets needs. Professionals that don’t achieve all they choose to do so because they accept it. I know what you’re thinking…but what about this?….but what about that?….but, but, but. “But” is the argument for your limitations. When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them. Define your needs, then go fulfill them. The solution lies within your drive and determination. When you stop, so does your career. Let your actions define you. Go get your success now. Never be satisfied.

6 Reasons Your MBA Doesn’t Work

In developing our latest series of ebooks for MBAs, we’ve spoken with many MBA graduates around the world.   Our discussions seem to present only two real value assessments for the MBA. One category of graduates feel that the degree provided sufficient knowledge and skills for proper career growth, while the other group claims the MBA has done nothing for them. In reviewing the backgrounds of the more optimistic group of graduates, we found some interesting observations that may prove to be quite useful if you’ve found that your MBA isn’t impacting your career as you expected. As you review each point, consider what impact they would have if you’d have thoroughly investigated it and implemented it into your strategy. Would you then say your MBA is still broken?

You didn’t establish any realistic expectations. If you look at almost any MBA program, they’ll suggest that you’ll “develop the ability to accelerate you career.” Does that mean you’ll be CEO in two years? Hardly. Very few MBAs graduate with the mindset that they’ll have to work another 5 to 10 more years to earn their next promotion or the opportunity to manage a group of employees. Most think they worked hard for two years and they want their reward now. Good luck with that. Save yourself the disappointment and talk with other MBA professionals in your industry to determine real goals.

You don’t demonstrate the skills. Just because you own a basketball doesn’t mean you should be a starting point guard for the Miami Heat. You’ve just spent two years learning a lot of things. You should be able to walk into a business and start making improvements instantly. If you don’t, your company will begin to wonder what you wasted your time on. To be a big player, you have to demonstrate your skills and prove that you’ve got what it takes.

You don’t need it. Too many graduates engaged in the quest for management greatness by earning an MBA only to find out that it can’t create that kind of magic by itself. I started out my career as an engineer. Yep, I’m the stereotypical engineer who got an MBA to move into management. Little did I realize that my managers didn’t have an MBA. They didn’t see it as a necessary characteristic for a manager to possess and even asked me “why would an engineer need an MBA anyhow?”   The strange part of it was that the company helped pay for my MBA. So don’t extrapolate too much from company policies or programs.

No one knew you had one. Did your employer throw a big party for you after you graduated? Probably not. The MBA was beneficial for you but those benefits haven’t been transferred to your company yet. So even if they knew you just graduated, they won’t be nearly as excited as you are.  This point is really aimed at helping you overcome the idea that just because you have an MBA doesn’t mean that management will recognize it and put you in charge. The people that are in charge now don’t want to give up their jobs to anyone. You’ll have to earn your way, just like you did in your MBA program.

It’s just a college degree. This is probably the hardest concept to accept. You put a lot of time, effort and money into this degree with the hopes that all of life’s problems would be solved once you got it. But, alas, the MBA is just another college degree. Actually, you spent more time on your undergraduate degree. Were your expectations for it much higher? In reality, Education is a tool for evaluating your environment to make it more efficient and more effective. It’s about working smarter, not how you can manipulate your surroundings to get more money and power. It doesn’t mean you won’t work any harder. If you really want to achieve higher levels of success, you’ll have to expend higher levels of thought, energy and time. The MBA gives you a taller ladder to reach places you couldn’t before. Regardless, you’ll still have to climb to get there.

You didn’t have a plan of action for it. This is simply the #1 reason most people are disappointed with the MBA. The MBA’s biggest benefit is its biggest detriment; that is, you can do anything and go almost anywhere with it. The challenge is defining the “what and where.” Do you want to go into entrepreneurship, consulting, private equity, or management? To develop the plan, you need to decide what you want to do, outline your path, plan your goals and resources, and put it into action. The MBA does nothing by itself. It has no value. It’s a hammer. Use it to build something.

The challenge for many graduates is to determine what they want to do and how the MBA can help build a better career. The problem is that this consideration isn’t thoroughly researched until after they graduate. The MBA is a tool that can help you build a better career and life for yourself. However, it does require planning and effort before, during and after graduation. You never stop thinking. You never stop planning. You never stop implementing. Learn from those who have the MBA and a great outlook on their career. Try what they have tried and you just might find the MBA has a real purpose in your future.