Being Yourself and A Little Bit More

by: Joanne Meehl

During a phone meeting with a client I'll call Mike, I was urging him to energize his job search, not only in casting his net a bit wider but in his comments about himself. Mike has more talent than he believes he has, and listened to me patiently as I enthused about this with him.

On the day of his appointed check-in a couple of weeks later, Mike emailed me to say not much had been going on with his search. He did what he'd committed to do, and apologized that he hadn't done more networking. Then his email said something that shook me: "I think you want me to be something other than what I am... but I'm just not the kind of person who finds it easy to do this. So I hope I'm not disappointing you."

First, I felt terrible that I had somehow made him think that he needed to be something other than who he really is. That is the last thing I want a client to think. I truly believe each person has his or her gifts, and limitations. My role is to help them work with that, work with who they are, so that they communicate their successes to a potential employer and get hired. And this is really what works. Anything else is dishonest, and I don't "do" dishonest, not only because it's intrinsically wrong, but because it's not the way people land jobs they are happy with in the long run.

And that he felt he'd disappointed me -- the person he's hired to help him get his next job -- made me feel terrible. Not for me, but for him, for his feeling that he had to live up to a standard I've set. When it's really me working for him. I give clients assignments and we agree on goals, and as I do so, I remind them this is for them, and that these tasks are what makes the difference and what will help them get interviews and offers. And it works.

So here's this decent, hardworking guy apologizing to me when he shouldn't have been.

But. Yes, but. We do live in a tough job market, and my awareness of what employers are doing or not doing, as well as the trends and areas of growth and decline, create an ongoing pressure on the searches my clients are doing. So I do push them, I do get enthusiastic for my clients. So many have so much to offer. And too many don't see it. I usually succeed in helping them see it, and they are grateful. Things they take for granted -- a great attitude, a strong work ethic, approachability by those who report to them, agility with newness and change -- I point out, are things that are sought after by employers. And they are surprised, because they figure everyone else has these qualities, don't they? No, they don't. So while they find it difficult to speak well of themselves, I teach them, and they grow in that way too. It's uncomfortable at first, but it's the edge you need today.

So with Mike, I thanked him for his frank comments and apologized for making him feel like he had to be something other than himself. And clarified that in no way do I want him to be "something else". But that he has to continue to try new things.

In today's volatile market and ever-rising layoff numbers, people need to stretch by setting up one more networking meeting, and to continue to believe in themselves even when it seems they're making little progress. It's because it's competitive out there, and a potential employer hears that energy in their voice -- your voice -- when they call to do a screening interview on the phone. And they hear the lack of it, too.

As I always say, my clients are my best teachers. This time, Mike taught me that I can push, but that I can't push too hard. Given the market conditions, it's a delicate balance. And tough to achieve.


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