Are You a Basic or an Upgraded Model

It can be tough to find a new position in the workplace. Many factors come into play when you put yourself, or circumstances put you, into the job market. When you have submitted application after application with no response, or you have had interview after interview without an offer it is very frustrating. When coaching people in this situation one of the things we look at is what they are bringing to the table for the jobs they are trying to get. One thing that has been helpful to them and may be helpful to you is to think of buying a car.

The Car: The Analogy

As you are walking the car lot in search of your next car. The salesperson walking with you chatters away as they tend to do. You know what your budget is and no amount of sales talk can change that. As you stroll up and down the aisles of cars, and there are hundreds of them on the lot, one model catches your eye. You give it the once over, kick the tires, look under the hood, look in the passenger cabin and the trunk. You look as the price sticker and it seems affordable. You need transportation and this would do nicely. Just as you turn to talk price, you catch a glimpse of another model. You walk over to it and give it the once over but the salesmen starts to point out all the extras that come included with this particular model. Good, reliable transportation but with all the extras you might look for in a car…and at the same price.

You have a budget of $ 30,000 to spend and you intend to spend all of it. Now, you could buy a nice serviceable nondescript vehicle. Four tires, four doors, good motor, nice, basic, serviceable transportation that will get you from point A to point B. Nothing special, nothing flashy but serviceable. By all outward indications it will perform as expected with very little trouble.

However, for the same $30,000 you can purchase the same good, basic transportation that will fill all your basic transportation needs…but it also has all the “extras” you wanted. There are the heated leather seats with memory adjustment, power everything, state of the art sound system, Bluetooth enabled, wifi hotspot, dvd player with front and rear screens, climate control, moon roof and all the other goodies that make things fun to drive. So now you have good solid, reliable transportation with all the “goodies” that will make your drive more enjoyable.

Which will you buy? Well, if you are like most of us there is no question which one you will take. You’ll take the upgrade for the same money.

This is the choice hiring managers make every day. When faced with a choice of two candidates, both reliable, both can do the job, but one has a little more to offer in the way of skill, knowledge, or abilities they will take the “upgraded model.” Your skills and qualifications can make you either nice “basic transportation” or the “up graded model”.

Understanding which “model” you are will help you to realistically understand your prospects at getting the job you are going after.  If you only meet the minimum qualifications of the job because you have not updated your skills you may be overlooked. If you do not have a good understanding of what skills you do posses so that you can speak convincingly (sell them) as to how they relate to the qualifications being looked for in the job, you are like the “basic model”. You are good, dependable, reliable transportation, but you have none of the qualities that would make someone take notice and choose you over that individual with the “extras” the degree, the upgraded skills, the certifications, the great positive attitude. You may make a fine employee, better perhaps than any other candidate but how will you or anyone else know if you do not have the right attributes to catch the eye of the hiring manager.

Rather than discourage you, I would hope that this would inform you and encourage you. The hiring manager wants to get the most and best for their money. Your job it to assess your skills, knowledge, and abilities and make sure they align with what the job wants and your competition may have.

Perception vs. Reality

Once when in the employee of a non-profit social service type agency (touchy-feely type of place) I was called into the office of a vice president. He asked me to be seated and struck up a conversation concerning a recent meeting in which I had stated some strong opinions about the subject up for discussion. He assured me that my comments, while strong were nothing inappropriate for the type of meeting it was. However, feedback he received made it clear that some folks in the meeting were “uncomfortable” with my remarks and the conviction with which they were made. I reminded him that I had remained silent until directly asked and then asked him if what I said was wrong or off the mark in some way. His reply was “no, but” I had still made them feel uncomfortable.

Then he turned the topic of conversation to a complaint that had been made about me to the COO by another Director who was a long time friend of the COO. I had not given into a request by this Director to make use of one of my staff members whenever this Director felt the need to use her. In essence I had not given subjugated one of my human capital resources to the whims of her felt needs. Now I will be the first to tell you that I can be blunt at times. When asked my opinion I will give it in a forthright manner that will not always make you feel good. Also, I will readily admit to wanting to have a good deal to say about the resources given to me, especially when someone tries to appropriate them for their use without really consulting me.

The vice president then said these words “I don’t disagree with what you said in the meeting and I know that the other Director is a bit of a whiner and she is friends with the COO but Emmett, you’re being perceived as uncooperative. You’re getting a reputation for …” Of course I was struck by these words. Me? Uncooperative? Me?  I assured him that it was not my intent to be uncooperative and then he said “but you’re being perceived that way and you know that perception is reality, it’s the perception that counts”.

I was a bit non-plused. As I started to offer a reply he cut me off and said “You should be thankful that I’m telling you this so that you are aware of how you are being perceived.” At that point I said nothing else. I knew that it would have been futile. Thanking him for taking the time to share this with me I turned and left.

You may have heard that old maxim before or you may have been told at one point in your career that “It’s perception that counts” or you may have heard it said or even been told “Perception is reality”. You may have had it used on you in a feedback meeting similar to mine. You may have heard it in a more positive vein.  I don’t know if you agree with the sentiments of those words or not. You may very well buy into the philosophy behind those words. A philosophy that really screams “We value how we think things are, not how things really are.” and “We prefer style over substance!”

“Perception is reality”. Agree with the statement or disagree with the statement, like what it implies or don’t like what it implies, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter for your career and for your sanity is that you recognize it as an operational truth. It operates as a fact to one degree or another in every work place, at all times. It is a fact in the workplace even if it is not a fact that you except. After all your experience or what you have accomplished does not define reality … evidently the perception of other does.

So read this next part carefully, even slowly, then write it down and commit it to memory.

 “Perception is not reality. Perception is just perception. Reality is reality. However, other people’s perceptions can define (or control) your reality. What you must do is control the perceptions of others so that you control your reality.”

That’s right, agree or disagree with the statement and philosophy but learn to use it to improve your lot in the workplace and in life. How do you do that? The simple answer is by any means necessary. The reality is you have to:

  • be aware and observe
  • be wise and think
  • act and adjust accordingly

“It’s the price you pay, for the life you choose.”

First, be aware and take stock and observe how your department or organization operates in general or a particular situations. In the workplace you need to be on the lookout for and ask yourself, “What is the culture here?”, “Who has the power, the real power, to affect your career both positively and negatively?”

Secondly, raise your level of awarness. You need to get a real feel for the company and department politics, get the lay of the land. Whose turf is it? Who likes who? Who dislikes who and why? Who is allied with who and why? Stay non-partial in this discovery phase. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Take it all in. The things you will observe all mean something. Very little that you see or hear will be happening by accident or coincidentally and not everything will be as it appears. People in the workforce, the wise ones any way, are all working their game plan to advance their careers, protect their careers, or squash an enemy or opposition to them or their plans. Knowing these things will help you in dealing with them.

Third, be wise. After taking in all the information, reflect on it, crank up the critical thinking skills and, as you reflect on all that you have observed, constantly ask yourself this question “What does this tell me?” After you have spent some time doing that it’s time to drill down a little further and ask yourself “What are the expectations?” These expectations can be both spoken and unspoken, explicit or tacit. They can extend to things such as expectations regarding behavior between peers, towards the boss, in the hallways, in meetings, at company functions, the expectations that will make you be perceived as a “good employee” and a “valuable member” of the team.

Finally, act and adjust accordingly. Once you have gathered the information through your observations and carefully orchestrated conversations with others, have spent time reflecting on what you have learned, and developed and understanding how you can use or apply what you have learned it is then time to put it all into practice. At this point you must make a decision. You have to decide how you want to be perceived. This is one of the few choices many of you will get to make in the work place.  Make it a wise choice because you will live with the consequences for good or for ill for a very long time. This choice will directly impact your career, your future advancement, and your job satisfaction. To quote Michael Corleone in Godfather III “It’s the price you pay, for the life you choose.”

If the expectations are, in your estimation worth adhering to, implement whatever changes you need to make quickly. Act decisively whatever it is. Change your dress. Upgrade you speech. Project a positive, can do attitude. Be seen doing the “right” things, whatever those may be. Make it a point to talk to the “right” people, whoever they may be. Make sure you are always on your best corporate behavior so that no one can say anything against you. The details I leave to you, the implementation is yours to figure out. But be sure to be perceived as you want to be perceived.

One last word of advice.  As you decide whether or not to enjoin this game, you should never go against your values. While you get to make the choice on how you want to be perceived, if you will play the game, and to what extent you will play the game, in the end you have to be able to look yourself in the face every morning and to live with your decisions. You also have to be able to pay your bills. There is a balance to be struck. And remember whatever your decision … “It’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”

Me? What did I do? I took stock, made changes to what I was doing, changed their perception of me, and then started looking for a job that was a better fit for my values.


Our Services: Coaching, Mediation, Training, Facilitation

Coaching Services

Coaching sessions are individual, private, and confidential. The client sets the agenda for the meeting by coming to discuss their individual needs and/or progress. Sessions generally last between 45 to 60 minutes and are offered over the phone, in person or via web cam.

Professional Development Coaching

Professional development coaching is highly personalized and targeted coaching that is designed to address the specific skills or behaviors the client needs to develop in order to succeed in their current position or to advance on the job. A Professional Development Plan (PDP) is developed and implemented by the client.

Topics typically discussed include but are not limited to:

  • Professional Development Planning
  • Communication Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Giving & Receiving Feedback
  • Management Skills
  • Team Building Skills
  • Change/Transition Management

Career Coaching

Career coaching sessions are generally requested by people that are looking to make a change in the workplace. These individuals are either contemplating moving to a career in a different field, trying to win a promotion at work or land a better job with their current employer.

Topics discussed include but are not limited to:

  • Career Discovery
  • Job Search Methods
  • Network Development & Care
  • Resume Development
  • Interviewing Skills
  • Skills Identification

Personal Development Coaching

Personal development coaching is geared to the individual who is seeking to make changes in their life but is unsure about the direction they should take.  Whether the changes are of a personal or professional nature the coach can assist the individual in developing the techniques and formulating the questions the need to ask to help them clarify their thinking, discover a new direction, and develop a plan to move ahead in life.

Conflict Resolution Coaching

Whether in the workplace or in your personal relationships, if you find yourself in conflict and are stuck on how to move forward, conflict resolution coaching may be able to help you develop the skills you need to address conflict in a productive way.  In conflict resolution coaching you will raise your awareness of the skills needed for successful resolution. You will have the opportunity to practice those skills in a safe and controlled environment and you will learn how to reinforce your new skills. By enhancing your conflict resolution, you can avoid unnecessary disputes or more effectively address and resolve them after they have started.

Mediation Services

Sometimes you just can’t work through a conflict without a little help. That where mediation can assist both parties to come to a mutually agreeable resolution to an issues.

Mediation is a voluntary process in which an impartial third party (a mediator) works with people in conflict to aid them in reaching a resolution. This is achieved through the facilitation of constructive conversations about perceptions, feelings, and information about the issues in dispute. The mediation process occurs between the parties in a neutral, controlled environment. The goal is to reduce hostility, to encourage rational discussion and, when possible, to arrive at a mutually agreeable resolution to the issues.

In the mediation process the parties involved in the dispute make decisions about how to deal with their situation, control the outcomes, and make the decision on how to resolve the conflict.

Training Development and Delivery  Services

Trainings are either custom developed to address the specific needs of your workplace or, at your discretion, the delivery of training content that already exists. We use the ADDIE methodology to develop trainings and work closely with you at each phase of development and delivery. Whether it’s soft skills or technical skills, developmental or regulatory we can create and deliver the training your organization needs.

Facilitation Services

While there are different purposes for and different types of meetings, in general, meetings should be productive, interesting, no longer than necessary, and result in action!

We can help you plan and conduct your next big meeting so that you achieve the results you want. We offer personal coaching so that you can develop the meeting development and facilitation skills that provide you with the development you need or, if it would be a better use of your time, we can facilitate your meeting. In planning and facilitating your meeting we help develop the meeting structure and objectives, guide the discussion, encourage participation, and keep the meeting from being “hi-jacked” by difficult participants.

Skills and Experience Are Not Enough

When people come to me for career development one thing that I find that they have often overlooked, to their peril I might add, is to understand that experience and skills are not enough. Do not mistake what I am saying, you must have skills, you must have them in abundance, in order to be competitive and they must be up to date. Also, every employer is looking for some level of experience and usually the more the better. But skills and experience alone will not land you the job. That news often comes as a surprise to people, especially individuals that are highly skilled with years of experience in their chosen fields.

These clients usually have a story of at least one time (usually several) where they did were passed over for a promotion or lost a job opportunity to individuals they “knew” or at least perceived as less skilled or experienced than themselves. What they failed to realize was that “the race is not always to the swift nor victory to the strong”. These individuals have failed to take stock of what employers are looking for when they hire and promote individuals.

The experienced hiring manager, when looking for someone to add to their team, is looking for more than skills and experience.  They are looking for the best possible match for their team or department. The problem with that is that it is a very subjective judgment that must be made.

Hiring managers, the wise ones anyway, are looking for the well rounded individuals not one sided individuals. They are looking for skills yes, a degree of experience yes, but also individuals with at least three other traits. They are looking for someone who is teachable, manageable, and with a great positive attitude.

Teachable means that you are accepting of and willing to learn new ways and methods of doing things. You realize that despite your great knowledge and skills you still have things to learn. You must be open to laying aside your ways and methods in favor of others. You must be willing to try and explore new things. This means that you embrace or are at least open to the possibility of change.

Manageable means that you can accept direction and will follow instruction willingly and often without questioning the reasons or authority of your manager. It also means that you “keep your nose clean” and don’t participate in the “office dramas” that can be divisive to your workgroup or team.  To convincingly portray this skill is no small feat for individuals who believe that their skills and knowledge are superior to their team members and/or their manager or to those individuals that feel they have something to say on most every issue and feel some inner compulsion to have to share it. In short being manageable means you exhibit a degree of humility and won’t be a pain in the ass to your team or manager.

A Positive Attitude that projects a “can do” feeling is what that managers know will add to their team and can be infectious when supported and rewarded. Managers don’t like, want or need negativity on their team and will avoid individuals they perceive as potentially negative risks. Just as a positive attitude can be infectious, it is doubly true that an individual with a “bad attitude” can bring a team down and potentially destroy it. A smiling, easygoing persona helps to project a positive attitude. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be lollipops and sunshine all the time with you. What it does call for is a good degree of emotional intelligence so that you can self-manage your moods so that they don’t negatively impact your team or manager.

Whether prepping for an interview or managing your current career the ability to project the qualities of being teachable, manageability, and having a positive attitude will serve you well in your career.

Doing the Laundry: Transferable Skills Identification

Since I’ve worked in the fields of adult education, workforce development, and now development coaching I’ve spent considerable time talking with adults about their perceptions of the skills they believe they either do or do not have. Through hundreds of discussions with adult students and coaching clients two things became clear. One, when talking about skills most people will tend to describe personal attributes or the tasks they perform rather than skills. Two, most people have trouble identifying the skills they use to accomplish the tasks that they perform. This is particularly true for tasks that they are very familiar with or do regularly such as their day to day responsibility on the job. They are good at telling you the tasks that make up their job responsibilities but not at what skills make it possible for them to do those tasks. This is usually because they don’t tend to think in terms of skills but in terms of tasks. This is understandable when you consider that many I not most job postings or want ads describe the position in terms of the tasks performed and not the skills needed to do those tasks.

Introducing Skills Identification

The exercise I use to introduce the concept of skills identification and transferable skills is a simple one. We talk about doing the laundry, a simple household task that almost everyone has performed at one time or another. This conversation provides us a basis for discussing tasks, assessing the skills involved in these tasks, and looking at how these skills can be “transferred” and used to perform other tasks.

The conversation usually goes something like this.

Coach: “Do you do laundry at home?”

Client: “What?”

Coach: “Do you do laundry at home?”

Client: “Why are you asking me that?

Coach: “Trust me on this. Tell me how you do the laundry.”

Client: “ OK. Well first I …”

Then an explanation of how they go about doing the task begins. While there are similarities for everyone in the way they do laundry there are also differences in the way they go about the task. The details of how the client does the laundry are not that important. What is important is getting the client to give the coach a complete process from beginning to end.  Odds are that since it is a familiar task they will tend to gloss over the details of the overall task and leave out some steps. The coach needs to use his questioning skills to make sure that no steps are left out and the details are filled in.

The basic steps you will hear described are sorting; filling in the washer; putting in the soap; placing them in the drier; folding them.

Once the client finishes describing the process they use in doing the laundry the questioning concerning skills can begin in earnest.

Often the client will begin with the process of sorting the laundry. Depending how in-depth the description of the task by the client is the coach can begin the drill down for details that will show how involved the task actually is and how steps can be over looked, ask some or all of the following:

  1. How do you know what clothes go into what piles?

(answer is usually color or label)

2. How you determine what temperature water to use?

(answer is usually connected to color or type of material)

3. How do you know how much soap to put in?

(answer is usually a capful for liquid detergent or a scoop for powder)

4. Do you use the same amount of soap for each load?

(answer is usually “no”)

5. How do you know how much soap to use?

(answer usually I guess; sometimes read the label)

6. When you dry the clothes do you dry everything at the same temperature for the same length of time.

(answer usually no, some things like jeans and towels take longer,              others don’t take as long; some things I don’t put into the drier)

7. How do you determine what goes into the drier and what doesn’t?

(answer my mom taught me, I just know, I read the label)


After getting the client to elaborate on their process and what is involved in the steps I ask the following. “Now that you have described to me how you do laundry what did you just describe to me tasks or skills?”  Usually the client knows it was tasks and not skills that they described.

The next thing I ask is this: “Now describe to me the skills that you used at each step in doing laundry.”

This usually gives them pause. The client usually has a more difficult time trying to identify the specific skills used in the tasks. It may be because the client is not used to thinking in terms of skills or it may be because the client is so familiar with the task they can do it automatically without much thought. If it is the second reason they may have difficulty identifying the skills used in the tasks they perform at work for the same reason. Often the average individual will be able to come up with one or two skills involved in the tasks, individuals with a better idea of what skills are will be able to name a few more.

If the client has difficulty identifying the skills they used I’ll help them with the identification by prompting them a little. This is where it is imperative for the coach needs to have a good command of skills and skills sets. The skills usually identified are critical thinking, decision making, reading for information, reading to locate information; basic math fractions; estimating; and hand eye coordination.

Once this exercise is completed I assign the client some homework that consists of them listing and then reflecting about the tasks they do on the job. Then I have them work at identifying and listing the skills involved in doing those tasks.

By working through a familiar task, (the laundry) and identifying the skills involved in those tasks many clients find it easier to use that thinking in identifying the skills they possess and use at work. Once the individual can identify their skills we can begin the work of helping them to develop insight on how their skills can transfer from one job or one task to another and then be applied to any number of tasks.

One practical application of this new realization about their skills comes in the interview process. Where, in the past, they may have struggled to “connect the dots” for the interviewer between their skills and the task of the job, now they can use that knowledge to help explain how they will be able to perform tasks on the job in a position that they may have not held previously.

Lessons on Reflection: Go to your room and think about what you have done.

Our earliest lessons in learning how to reflect upon ourselves and the things we do often came accompanied by the words …”Go to your room and think about what you have done!”

As a child you may have been sent to your room or made to “sit in the corner” to think about what you did to get you is such a sad position, so usually you were in trouble. While in your room, feeling isolated from all human contact and alone with your thoughts you were supposed to think about what you did, feel sorry for your actions and their consequences, apologize for what you did, make amends for what you did if possible, and promise never to do it again. Or at least that’s what you parents wanted you to do.

As much as we hated being sent to our rooms it was our earliest training on learning the importance of reflection about ourselves and our actions. These early efforts by the authority figures in our lives to get us to reflect actually laid the foundation and served to teach us the value of pausing to consider, ponder, question, think and reflect all in a critical way about our issues, problems, success, failures, and plans … our lives. Unfortunately, since this learning was not taking place under pleasant circumstances. So if we participated in the process at all we did it grudgingly, but usually we feigned the response that was expected of us to get out of the circumstances we found ourselves in. This was also an early form of enlightened self interest … so that we could get back to our agenda, whatever we were doing before we were interrupted by this unreasonable demand to “think about what you have done”. Those demands placed upon us may be part of the reason so few people take the time to reflect and think about their lives, actions, and careers as adults. We don’t do it because it’s not easy, not fun, and we don’t see the benefit in doing it.

How does this relate to career development? In any part of life, but especially in career development efforts, critical reflection is an essential part of your development plan. After you draw up your plan and have begun the implementation and have worked the plan for a while you need to pause and take some time to reflect on what you are doing. You need to set aside time periodically and examine your plan, your progress in implementing it, and your overall effectiveness in making it work. The reason for this critical reflection is not only to check on your progress, to see how far you’ve got, but to also to tweak the plan and make any adjustments needed to enhance your development plan. You need to ask yourself questions like “What’s working?”, “What’s not working?”, “What do I need to do more of?”, “What do I need to do less of?”, “Do I have the resources I need to execute my plan?”, “Who do I need to network with to help further my goal?” “What are the implications if I take this action as opposed to that action?”. By asking these and other critically reflective questions you can sharpen your plan and continue to update your execution strategy. By exercising the disciple of critical reflection you can make your plans better and improve your chances for success.

In order to do this type of deep thinking and to be able to critically reflect upon your current state you need to get way from distractions of the day to day and concentrate, to focus on the task. A friend of mine refers to this as “going to the mountain top”. This simply means that you take the time to get away from the noise and distractions of your daily life so that you can concentrate on the task at hand. This may mean that you need to remove yourself physically from other people and distractions for an extended period of time so that you can be alone with your thoughts and think. If actually removing yourself for periods of time is not possible, it may mean that you purposely set aside time on a daily basis to reflect upon and examine your plans and progress, on what you have done and what you need to do. However you do it is not important. That you do it is imperative!

There is a certain discipline that is needed for this. As a child your parents brought pressure to bear in an attempt to force/ coerce/ make you think about what you had done. Now, as an adult, no one has the authority to pressure you or demand that you reflect on what you have done and how you do it. You have to demand it of yourself. And you do it because you realize it is in your own best interest to do so.

Employers want the basics from their employees

As I discuss the needs of the entry level workforce with employers and especially with hiring managers one theme keeps surfacing. Dependability. They need people who they define as dependable. When pressed to define “dependable” they end up defining it as a person who will show up, on time, every day, ready to work, and who can get along with others in the workplace. Sounds simple enough doesn’t? Seems as if most anyone who want to work could meet these few minimum requirements, but in many cases it isn’t that simple.
Let’s break it down:
Show Up: Go to work every day. Day in and day out. Week after week. Month after month. No last minute call offs. No excuses on why today just isn’t a good day to report for work. Even when you would rather not, show up.
On time: Show up every day when you are supposed to show up. Not 15 minutes later, not five minutes later. Get to work at the scheduled time, all the time, so you do not negatively impact the flow of business. Do what you must to order your life and activities so that they do not interfere with getting to work on time.
Every Day: Showing up on time most days, or 4 out of 5 or even 9 out of 10 days is not good enough. Consistency (read every day) is the key here, occasionally will not do. This is not horseshoes or hand grenades. Close don’t count. Most don’t count. Every day counts.
Ready for Work: Personal business handled. Rested and ready to meet the tasks for the day. Mind focused on the task at hand not on your love life, your recreations, or your troubles. We all have them and we must learn to put them aside at work. Engage your mind and focus on your job.
Get Along with Others: Show some emotional maturity and use emotional intelligence to handle the annoyances you will encounter. Be cooperative and flexible with the people (and customers) you must deal with not quick to take offense at thoughtless actions and comments. Put aside self centeredness and think in terms of what is good for your team members or employer and not just for you. Believe it or not it is not all about you.
These few basic requirements, along with some basic ability to perform the tasks of the job, are really all it takes to be successful in the workplace.
Employers state that they are willing to invest in people who meet this idea of “dependable”. They will train you for other positions, provide opportunities for advancement, and tend to keep you around if you meet their idea of dependable.
If you are entering the job market from school or trying to re-enter it after a period of unemployment you need to project dependability. You need to sell the hiring manger on your ability to meet these few simple criteria. Hiring managers are looking for it; they want to find it in you. Use your answers in the interview so that they see you as that dependable one they are looking for.