This is an article – or small book – that came out of a couple of blog posts I wrote over the past several months as I looked for my next job. It’s long for a blog post now, but since it started here, I share where it ended.
What do you think? What ought I do with it next?
the openhearted job search
Are you happy with what you do for a living? Is it truly what you want?
I realized earlier this year that my job had stopped being what I want to do in my life. This came with a fair amount of “soul searching”, which frankly felt like a bunch of neurotic floundering. Maybe I’ll quit my job and move to Hawai’i! I’d tell myself. What if I’m supposed to be a life coach? I’d think. A motivational speaker? A writer of books? Anything but what I was about to be doing in my well-paid corporate job.
To start, I stopped waffling and made a commitment to change my life. Better still – to find a job with a search that was itself life-changing, for my next job to be about my heart. Even couple of months into this process in a crap economy, I felt like the experience had changed me and my relationship to the world. And yes, I found a role with a company that feels like the perfect thing for me to be doing at this moment.
The wonderfully ironic thing is that I haven’t had to make a wild, obvious change of circumstance to experience this. I’m not writing this on some remote beach or from some cloister – well, okay, some of it I wrote on the beach – and I’m not demanding that you take crazy risks, either… unless you think dreaming up the perfect work for yourself is crazy.
If you’re in a position where you either hate your job or are jobless, this may seem pretty crazy. It’s not. In fact, not having an engrossing job means you get to dive more completely into the process of finding that dream. I’m a little jealous.
The process started out as an experiment; I certainly hoped for success, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I made it up as I went, and it was wildly successful. This is my experience, and my advice to you. Your open-hearted search will look different from mine. That’s cool. That’s more than cool: it’s the whole point.
one: baby steps
Heather, my co-active coach, introduced me to co-active coaching’s version of SMART goals. It’s like corporate SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – don’t those words sound so efficient?) goals, but not soul-killing. Co-active SMARTs are specific, measurable, accountable, resonant and thrilling. Thrilling over timely! Resonant over realistic! I love it.
Your first step is this: decide what you want to do. Make the decision based on what’s resonant and thrilling more than anything else.
Coaching is fantastically effective at helping to visualize this. Talk to your heart. Ask it. What is wonderful and shiny and good about you? How would you express that through work? What does an amazing work day look and feel like?
Be a kid about this. Remember when you were 5, or 10, or 18… or last week. A time when you dreamed big. Draw pictures, if that’s a thing that works for you. Use sidewalk chalk. Start keeping a notebook and listing some of these things. Make mind maps. Make flow charts. Make anything that appeals to you. Just get it out of your head and into some other medium. Make it real.
Do not, under any circumstances, take a skills assessment, sorting test, blah blah blah. It will be tempting, but don’t even think “how?” yet. Imagine and be thrilled. You’ll figure out how, find the union of practical and wow, in a bit. Get excited first. It’ll help your heart (or intuition, or gut, whatever you want to call your deeply feeling bits) talk to you.
Ask yourself the question, and wait for a response. Are you having trouble hearing an answer? There are many ways to quiet down and listen: meditation, physical work or exercise, soothing sounds, special places you go to, visualization. Many ways – try one or several.
This is my answer to the question: I want to make the world more metaphorically sunlit by helping teams figure out how to build stuff together. And I want to do it in a place where people are excited about sharing and world-changing. Essentially, I want to change how work works. It’s not at all a unique mission – yay for every person and organization who does this – but wow, does it thrill me.
After this starts to come together for you, you might find assessments and such useful – personality- and strengths-based tests could tell you a little more about how you want to do this work your heart calls for, and what it is about yourself that calls you. You know these things; sometimes, though, it’s nice to have supporting data.
two: get a coach
Speaking of support! One of the best tools I use in my life is the help of a co-active coach.
As you go through this process, you are going to occasionally freak out. You’re goint to yell at yourself, think the process is stupid, be overwhelmed with joy and fear and all kinds of emotion. Job-seeking is a stressful process: no matter how awesome you make it, you’re still talking about a fundamental life change. The more your heart is in play, the more keenly you’ll feel what’s at stake.
If your situation allows for it, I can’t say enough good things about doing this process with a professional coach beside you. They’re trained to help people identify what they want and decide how they want to get it. A good coach is also able to reflect back to you who you are and what you value, championing you when your confidence falters & challenging you when you squirm away from something that scares you. The work I do with my coach in general (before I even started this process) also keeps me aware of both the things that are wonderful about me and what I still want to work on.
If you don’t have a professional coach, think about finding a partner, mentor, other job seeker, or even just a friend who agrees in advance to spend some time every week or two talking about this process with you. Seek support. Having an open heart includes asking for help, and recognizing that others are there for you. Even simply acknowledging to another person that you are taking these steps will make them more tangible, and you more committed.
three: what do you want right now?
You’re looking for work. Good. Have you noticed how often we as humans think our lives will be great once we have whatever one great thing we’re waiting for? Don’t wait for that new wonderful job to have what you want, where you want with the people you want. Have it now.
What does it mean to look for a job in a way that makes the looking itself compelling? I suspect there’s a core set of values that everyone wants to honor in their process.
- learning (you develop new skills or have new experiences, you discover things about yourself or others)
- enjoyment (the search is fun – why else would you keep at it?)
- safety (your self-image is not at risk from rejection, you’re not in financial or physical danger)
- balance or integration (the job search complements your current life, or at least doesn’t overload you)
- presence (you feel like you’re really participating in the effort and experiencing the highs and lows)
Then each of us adds our own values. It’s important for me, for instance, to be open-hearted and rely on my emotion and intuition in this process right now. Presence for me is all about feeling, and connection with other people. Balance is all about feeling like the search itself is creative and leaves space for my artistic life.
Why think this much about what kind of job search experience you want to have? You could just start sending resumes out, or call your old manager who thought you were awesome. That whole process turns you and your next work into a bundle of keywords, skills and benefits. Great, if you want a job based on those things. If you want real fulfillment, though, you spend a fair amount of time deciding what job you want to do, where, in what sort of place and with what sort of people.
So, that’s part 2: decide what kind of experience you want to have while you look for your next great work. It may be a lot like what you want from the work itself. Or not. In either case, it will help you decide where to go on the map to your new destination. Consider drawing a map, even, if you’re visually oriented.
I have a few thoughts to get you started on your search:
- Imagine the most fun you’ve ever had looking for something. Was it a game of hide-and-seek? Finding an out-of-the-way landmark? Combing the beach for shells? That experience could be a metaphor you apply to this job search. How could you create the same qualities as you look for work?
- What do you value in life as a whole? Make a list of those things, and note next to each one how it can be honored in a job search.
- Have a little chat with your imagined future self, the self you’d be if you did everything important. What does Future!You do? How did that come to be?
four: gulp-worthy first steps
So. You’re looking at a map, metaphorically or otherwise. It may change. That’s okay. It’s there to keep you moving and aware of your path, not to keep you locked onto a path like a trolley car. What’s your first step on that path?
The first step of my connected search is… well, connections. Relationships. Once I knew how important it was to make connections, the rest of this step seemed obvious. If you’ve answered the questions in Very Official Step Four, I believe your first steps will be equally obvious.
So, my story… A few places sparked my sense of wonder. What would it be like to work there? And what better way to find out than to ask? That’s a good rhetorical question – the best way to get what you really want is usually to ask. This next question is not rhetorical: what do you want to ask for?
You’ll need to connect to people no matter how you choose to do your search. I want meaningful, heart-to-heart kinds of connections. So I reached out to a few people I know, with a direct and open question – do they know anyone at the companies I’d like to imagine working at? Do they know of (or work at) other places that really connect with their own hearts? Gulp. That was hard to say – the word “heart” in front of people I’ve worked with. The questions stuck in my throat, behind a veneer of “cool professionalism”.
When did “professional” come to mean “emotionless”?
I pushed myself just a little further and sent everyone – most of these contacts were electronic – a form of Fraggles. It was a way of sending them lightheartedness and happiness. Fraggles? Are not emotionless. It felt good to ask people for what I really cared about, and within a day several had sent me possible contacts. A few surprised me with their feelings about their own work. Unexpected results!
This part is fun! I love getting to know new people, or getting to see a part of someone that I didn’t know much about.
And that’s exactly what I wanted: this aspect of looking for a job isn’t drudgery. It’s easy to make time for – because I want to be doing the work itself, not just experiencing the results in however many months. I look forward to these conversations, and I enjoy the surprises. It’s fun-exciting more than scary-exciting.
That’s what you’re looking for on your first steps: exciting new ways to approach your search that speak to your heart. Decide what you want to ask for. Gulp, and take that step. A coach or support person can be a wonderful challenger here. If you make wimpy little commitments to yourself, that person can check you, push you for more, and push you to be honest. Then, when you make the choices that make you gulp, your support will be right with you, cheering.
five: be present, be you
Part of finding fulfilling work is being able to guess (by the way, guessing is about the best you can do for your future self – you and your circumstances will change, after all) what you’ll be happy doing. Our first step on this path was thinking about the kind of work we intend to do, the things that appeal to the best parts of ourselves. You’ve thought about what you want, right?
The other part is what others want that you have. You also need to match yourself to what you want. That’s what’s next! Think about the qualities in yourself that you want people to know you have. What do you value in yourself?
You can take many different routes to decide this for yourself: making lists, talking to others, taking tests, creating art that represents your self. I am proud, for instance, of both my ability to hear and coach others – when I really pay attention – and my own passion for information gathering and sharing. Those are things I try to show when I talk to people about possible jobs.
This, knowing ourselves, is ironically one of the times we as humans most seem to need support and input from others. Go for it. I’ve tried a few strategies that I like:
- The aforementioned art about yourself. What if you collected images and words into a collage? A quilt? A scrapbook? Some form of unusual robot? A dance? A song?
- Take a really good, strengths-focused self-assessment. I had a career coach mention Strengths Finder and the VIA assessments. Taking the tests is nice, but taking the tests and then reflecting on what’s true or not true about them is better.
- Ask your friends and colleagues. Heck, use past performance assessments if you’ve worked at places that do those things. Just ask what they really appreciate, as this feedback is much more fun to give than criticism. By the way, when you ask, ask people you trust, who really matter to you – and tell them that.
- Write yourself a book jacket, a review of your yet-to-be-published memoir, an obituary, the speech you want given at your wedding, retirement, farewell party for your move to the moon base.
You have traits and experiences that no one else has, had, or will have. The more you think about yourself and your many wonderful qualities, the clearer you will be on what you want to show and communicate. You may also learn about the person you want to be, and find ways to communicate that.
Job seeking is a lot like dating – and neither needs to be stressful. Ultimately, both are about matching two puzzle pieces together. Some dates are a little like recruiters, even – they have a checklist of the qualities they’re looking for, and you either connect with them on paper or you don’t. You probably feel a little awkward on those dates, and weird talking to hiring folk who think like that. It’s ok. The situation is, in fact, awkward & weird. You don’t have control of the other side of the situation, but you can make sure you are clear and confident in who you are and what you want.
You can practice this with your resume.
six: writing a resume without selling your soul
I have been really good at writing resumes: clear, active descriptions of jobs that were truthful but make you sound good, using all the keywords recruiters are looking for. The resume as a sales pitch.
It’s a repetitive exercise & people get sold to so often that writing such a pitch feels soul-killing.
You’re most likely to get hired as a result of a relationship you’ve built – not your resume. So the resume is two things: a formal introduction, if you don’t know someone to build that relationship, and a way of organizing your own thoughts about your past experience and the accomplishments you value. Treat it that way – as a calling card and a communication tool.
I wanted to write a resume that tells you who I am, while still being consumable by recruiters and HR people and others who are asked to help find people to fill jobs with the shallowest possible understanding of either job or person. [Man, HR people who have to work that way? I feel for you. If you signed up for a job like that thinking it was about people & got - you know, that... there are other, better ways out there. I want to go find recruiters, hug them & tell them to go toward the light.] The same basic skills – understanding the core of a piece of work, writing clearly & comprehensively – apply to a heartfelt resume, but the approach is different.
It took some mental shifting for me. I don’t recommend starting with what I started with – namely, staring blankly at last year’s resume on a computer screen, wondering how to take something so nicely suited to job seeking inside my company & make it both intelligible (OMG THE JARGON – I used a lot of it) and compelling (a hard job for a bulleted list of job duties). Ugh.
Once I’d finished wasting that time, I started looking around online for people whose resumes intrigued me. Be warned: there are a lot of boring resumes that serve recruiters’ hunger for keywords; there aren’t quite so many that give you a sense of the person behind the bullet points. Even if you – like me – are looking for a job working for someone other than yourself, pay special attention to what self-employed people write. Not having the recruiter-mindset, they tend to talk more about their authentic selves. You may see something you like.
Here are a few I liked:
this agile coach’s casual, narrative structure
this co-active coach’s info about himself and what he does best
the “profile” and keywords sections of this career coach’s resume
Each of those in some way made me think ooh, I might like you. When I’m hiring people – usually based on resumes that recruiters have further diluted with boldfaced keywords and other detritus – that ooh, I might like you feeling would be like a lemonade stand on a hot summer day. It puts the feeling back in the search process on both sides – the person with a job to fill and the person who wants that job.
That’s one tactic – look around for resumes that give you the feeling, since so many people post theirs online in some form. The resume you want to write from your heart probably isn’t yet out in some copy-paste template (because you’re not so much the copy-paste template sort of person, are you?), but you can gather collage elements that you like. What questions do others ask or answer in their resumes that connect for you? What questions do you want a client or an employer to ask you?
When you feel you have enough information collected, step away from the computer – or whatever your conventional approach is. I find hand-writing helps me be more in touch. You might work better with drawing, speaking aloud, creating little flash animations, or some other tactic. I took my notebook outside and wrote a little about each of these topics (the questions I wanted to answer for myself): what I want – which I’d already written about as I started this search, what I love to do, what I accomplished in each role, and how who I am as a person makes me awesome to work with. As you do this exercise, don’t push for perfection – just let the words come out. Let your passion come out.
In addition to creating resume content, you may find that this work clarifies even further what you’re seeking from a new job. That’s how passion rolls – once you get it worked up, it just can’t stop communicating. And I believe that’s the space you want to be in when you’re looking for your next big thing.
So! You’ve gotten structural ideas from others. You’ve written some content yourself. Put your content in the structure. Tada! First draft done. I won’t talk much about reviewing and refining, because those things are a breeze in comparison to what you’ve just tackled; if those things feel hard, find a friend who is a confident writer and ask for their editing help.
seven: the first date
If the hunt for a job is like dating, going to an interview is your first date. Many of us approach job seeking in general, and interviewing even more so, as a process of selling ourselves. We assume the goal is to get someone to employ us. Your heart doesn’t want just any job, though – no more than you’d want a second (or fifth, or fiftieth) date with someone you had no connection with.
You can find some lousy, soulless dating advice, of course. It’s common to think in terms of rules that will help you “catch” a date or a partner. You can date like you just want someone, anyone, to like you. Is that success? Someone else’s approval? Not for you. Your heart wants better.
You know there’s no secret formula for the perfect hot date. People are unique. Chemistry, that magical energy of connection between two people, seems to follow no formula at all. Go on enough dates, though, and you’ll start to see a pattern emerge; there are three things at work: you, the other person and the space between you.
Each person is evaluating all three, looking at the connection and possibility of this relationship. The same is true in an interview. If you come in focused on you impressing them, you miss an opportunity to get to know the interviewer. You miss your own chance to assess the connection. Plus, as anyone who’s seen another person do this on a date knows, you look a little bit desperate.
Whether you’re just gathering information or actually seeking employment, every conversation you have is an opportunity to:
- Share who you are and the skills you value. The things we repeat influence our thoughts, too – so each time you do this, you may learn about yourself or reinforce your own best qualities. That’s right! Talking about your talents is good for you. Maybe as good as broccoli.
- Learn about the people, place and role you’re considering. You get to gather hard data and make a human connection with each person you contact. Don’t forget to ask questions and probe; people enjoy being listened to.
- Evaluate how well the situation fits the wants and needs you’ve already thought through. It may even help you form a better impression of what you really want. You can think both in terms of facts and in terms of how you feel.
The interview process isn’t about selling yourself any more than really good dating is. It’s about all three elements: you, the job, and the fit between the two. Good interviewers also recognize this, and will work to help you.
This may be a big shift in the way you think about interviewing, or it may be totally obvious. Take some time to think about it. How will you approach interviews?
I’ll share my own approach and suggestions:
- Find out about an organization’s culture before you even apply. Find contacts at places that interest you, and ask them what they care about. Get to know those people, and you’ll get to know their places.
- Decide what’s important in a job. Based on what you’ve decided you want and the skills you care about, what must exist for you want a job? What must you avoid? Ask questions to find out whether a job fits these musts.
- Be ready to talk about your skills and the things that excite you. Share your passion. Admit to being good at things. Admit to not knowing. Be willing to disagree or dive into a topic with someone.
- Focus on what matters to you. Don’t cram for interviews. If something about a company excites you, learn more about that, but you needn’t come to an interview citing 20 reasons you fit their strategic plan.
- Show up as yourself. Maybe slightly better dressed and a bit more polite – just as you would for a date – but still be you.
When you focus on your authentic self in comparison with a possible role, your experience is honest – and more fun. You get to stop thinking of “rejection” and “acceptance” and instead see connections… or not.
eight: waiting is fine
As I write this, I’m nearing the end of a waiting process with one of the companies I’ve talked to. The people have consistently been clever, open and fun. But. They still conduct all their contemplation and decision-making in a black box. We’ll have a daily exchange for a week, then they disappear for the next two. I’m frustrated, in part because I believe that keeping in touch is a way people say they’re interested. In my mind, the lack of progress updates means someone doesn’t want to hire me. It can, in fact, mean any number of things.
I feel, come to think of it, a lot like someone waiting for a call back after a third date. Is this the one? Do I want you to be the one? Why aren’t you calling me? Should I call you? I called you. You haven’t called? Do I look desparate? I didn’t want to be with you anyhow. You suck. Please call.
There are other ways of looking at this process. People may, for instance, be embarassed to admit they’re disorganized and can’t make a fast decision. Your contact may not fully grasp how decision-making works, so not have the information you want. They could be trying hard to “woo” you, and not be great at it (this is surprisingly common). You could be a second choice. Waiting without angst requires you to hold all these possibilities as equally likely – and then, to forget about them and gracefully go on with your day.
That can be hard to do. You want to stay passionate and enthusiastic about your search, yet not get overwhelmingly attached to any one outcome.
How do you do that?
- Be happy. If you’re enjoying the search and your life, no future possibility or lack thereof can ruin your life.
- Keep pursuing the interests that excite you. Do things that have nothing to do with work. You need the distraction, and you need to be a complete person.
- You’ve spent time figuring out what matters to you in this process. Stick with it. Remind yourself of it. Put your values on a poster, on sticky notes, on anything that will bring you back to those.
- Be a little fatalistic. Believe that things will work out well.
- Imagine the perfect outcome. Seriously. Think about it in great detail.
- Try to throw worries out, or at least make friends with them; pat them on the head and put them to bed.
- Wallow when you need to. It’s okay to feel lousy sometimes.
You may completely freak out, wondering what you’re doing and why and if you’ll ever really know what you’ll be when you grow up. When you do, come back here and repeat with me: Wow. This sucks.
Sit with that for a minute. It does suck. Is there maybe something a little exciting in it? Something fun? I’m guessing it will serve you in some way. I find that a few moments after a crushing defeat, a little gleeful voice pops up in the back of my mind: Hey, I just had a Learning Experience. Cool! It’s wonderful to know you’re still alive and have feelings, even hurt ones.
It sounds cheesy, but that’s what we gain when we do the job thing from the heart.
By the way: you do know what you want to be when you grow up. Everything you are right now is enough. You’re ready for this. Everyone is.
nine: it’s not you, it’s me
Some roles you look at aren’t going to fit you. It may be obvious when you interview, or even when you first hear about them. It may not be.
This seems like an obvious thing to say, but many of us feel like every job needs to want us. Then, when the wrong jobs want us, we feel obliged to accept. Don’t do that! There are jobs that sound good but are looking for something that you don’t have or know. There are jobs you’re wildly qualified for that aren’t right for the person you are or want to be. There are perfect jobs with tragic, non-negotiable flaws.
Each of these possibilities leads to the same feeling: rejection. Yours or theirs. In an ordinary job search, you might experience hundreds of rejections, many of them impersonal letters or simple non-responses to resumes. You might reject even more possibilities – every job you don’t apply to, every non-response to a recruiter who sees your resume on Monster is a form of rejection.
Searching from your heart will make you more selective and more successful (relatively). It will also make disappointment more intimate.
So. What do you do about that?
- First, of course, is feel it. Remember: Wow. This sucks. It might not even suck, exactly. It might be flattering. It might be relieving. You can feel those things, too; I hope it will only rarely flat-out suck.
- Have some boundaries. Know what you will and won’t accept. You know there are some things that drive you crazy; don’t tolerate those. Walk away fearlessly if you need to.
- Stick to your values, the things you want from this search. Write them on a balloon or a soft, squishy ball, and have someone throw it at you. Tape it to yourself. As important as the right job is, being the self you want completely eclipses that.
- Always be gracious in your response. Talk to the person on the other end of the decision – whether you’re doing the rejecting or they are – and part kindly, with hope for their future and yours.
When you’ve done all those things, move on to what’s next. Let the rejection go, as best you can.
ten: decisions, decisions
Here’s a funny story about my job search: my job and I rejected each other the first time around. We came to one point that neither of us could negotiate on, parted amicably, and I figured it was over. A month later, the perfect outcome I’d imagined in detail came to pass, in the form of another offer – and it was just the right one. No matter what other jobs were under consideration, that was the one I wanted. I just knew.
You will, eventually, need to make decisions about what you want to do. All the work you’ve just done from that lovely heart of yours will pay off – probably in ways you can’t even imagine as you start off down this road, incomplete map in hand.
Know this, when that sexy little job offer is in front of you: you did this. You made it happen.
You don’t really need advice about what to do when the right thing happens. You already know. No amount of process or logic can outsmart that feeling of rightness. Say yes. Savor it. Get ready.
Enjoy your life.