Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On giving thanks

"Gratitude is the best attitude." - Anon

I've already written a post about happiness wherein I assert that a key step to attaining it is having gratitude for what one already has. As we approach the American holiday of Thanksgiving I wanted to share some thoughts:

In the United States we are given an entire day off to reflect on and be grateful for the bounty before us. In that spirit lets each of us take the opportunity, even if only 5 minutes, to take an important step towards happiness and give thanks to someone or something however small. Gratitude is truly the best attitude even in, or perhaps especially in, tough times.

I am certainly grateful for the readership of this blog. I am very thankful for the time you are taking to read these postings and sincerely hope you benefit from something somewhere. Thank you.

If you celebrate this holiday I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! If this is not a holiday for you then I wish you a very happy 5 minutes (or more) of Gratitude!

Additional note: (via the Dan Pink blog, one of my favorite bloggers and current authors)

With 2010 winding down, Dan Pink asked Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith (authors of the book, "The Dragonfly Effect") if they’d answer a question for Pink Blog readers:

“What are three ways people can use the remaining six weeks of the year to both spread their idea and boost their satisfaction?”

Here is their wonderful response - appropriate for this post on gratitude (and happiness!)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The 3 "secrets" to getting your NEXT JOB

As one can imagine given the U.S. economic situation of the past 2 years I've had lots of conversations with mentees (and others) employed and unemployed centered around finding a new job. Everyone wants to know the secrets to success especially in tough times - I'm about to give the 3 most important ones. (Or perhaps these aren't secrets for you so just take this as a strong reminder of what you should already be doing...  :)  )

A few years ago while I was working with a well known outplacement agency I came across a fascinating statistic they had compiled from measuring the success path of their own clientele over decades of job searching: (paraphrased by me) on average it takes 20 to 30 conversations with different hiring managers before obtaining a final offer of employment. This blew my mind. I know I'm writing this but it's worth repeating: on average it takes 20 to 30 conversations with different hiring managers before obtaining a final offer of employment. A hiring manager is literally someone with the power to hire you - a decision-maker (so typically someone in Human Resources doesn't count). In better job markets the number is closer to 20 and in worse job markets the number is closer to or even above 30.

The next related statistic was also eye opening: and how does one get to have these 20 to 30 conversations with hiring managers? One has to have 20 to 30 job search-related conversations a week which produce information on target industries, companies and most importantly networking connections to hiring managers at your target companies. Whether there's a job opening posted or not the key step (and secret numero UNO) is making connections to and conversing with people with the power to hire. It's that simple and yet usually that difficult because it means putting yourself out there in a persistent, professional and disciplined way. These conversations don't have to be long -  20 minutes maximum. But you do need to get out there and make those phone calls and have those networking coffee chats and lunches. There is no way around it and you don't want a way around it because it will benefit you in a multitude of ways.

Perhaps these statistics feel somewhat inflated - perhaps they really are. No matter they drive home the point that sending out resumes, creating internet search agents, waiting to receive emails and phone calls are all nice but success lies in getting out there proactively and building your network. You want to discover job openings before they are even posted (also known as the "hidden" job market). You can only do that by talking with people and making sure you are available as the opportunities arise.

I'll use this quote again: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” - Seneca

20 job search conversations a week is quite a tall order so what's the key there? How do you get to do that? You do that by leveraging each conversation you have into obtaining your next conversation. This is secret #2: Never leave a job-related conversation (unless it's an actual interview) without doing the following 2 things:

  1. Ask the person you are speaking with who else they might know and could possibly introduce you to in order to help you learn about your target industry, geography, company or job opportunity. You could say something like "Who else would you recommend I speak with about possible future openings at ABC Company? What's their email or phone # and would you be ok if I told them you sent me?"
  2. Set some kind of time frame when you'll reconnect with the person you are currently speaking with. Even if it's only to thank them or keep them posted on your progress. An even better reason would be if you've uncovered some way you could help them in return for meeting with you and recommending others to speak with (see #1)
The final secret I'd like to share is: you will receive help if you help others. Have you come across a job opportunity that isn't a fit for you but might be very interesting to someone in your network? Then by all means pass it along whether that person is employed or not! You never know if someone is ready for a professional change. If you helped someone else get a job you will have made a friend forever! Be proactive at feeding your network with your own connections and job opportunities. It will come back to reward you in the future.

In summary, the 3 secrets are:
  1. Have plenty of job-search conversations each week. There is no internet/job posting/resume-sending plan that can replace proactive, in-person or over the phone real-time conversations.
  2. Ensure every conversation leads you to the next conversation.
  3. Help others find opportunities and you will be helped more than you know!
Good luck out there! It's rough but getting better.....

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to create a mentoring program - some resources

Most of the time I use this blog to present new ideas or old ideas in new ways about mentoring. Sometimes though I just like to use it to point you to useful information on mentoring as in today's post.

Clearly by virtue of my authoring this blog you know I find tremendous benefits in mentoring. These benefits are not limited to the individuals who participate but also expand to include companies that foster a mentoring environment! To quote an article listed below:
Mentoring programs are one of the most effective tools in achieving business results. The authors of the book, War on Talent reported, “Of those who have had a highly helpful mentoring experience, 95 percent indicated it motivated them to do their very best, 88 percent said it made them less likely to leave their company, and 97 percent said it contributed to their success at the company.”
Some kind of mentoring program, whether formal or informal, will benefit and can be established at any size company. For example, a quote taken from another article:
 IBM started its program to build knowledge, foster learning, and connect people in a company with 386,000 employees. The culture of mentorship runs so deep that every IBM employee is either being mentored, mentoring others, or doing both. “A lot of our people work virtually, and mentoring can erase geographic and business-unit borders,” says Sheila Forte-Trammell, who manages IBM’s mentoring programs.
Whether it's to groom future leaders, help onboard new employees or improve job satisfaction, morale and loyalty there are a myriad of reasons companies would want to build on the power of mentoring programs. Below are a couple of articles that talk about how to start just such a program. If you are in a position to get a mentoring program started these articles are valuable tools. If you are someone hoping for something like this at your workplace perhaps you can forward these links to your manager or to someone in HR responsible for employee satisfaction.

If you have any additional ideas on how or why to start a mentoring program or ways to create incentives for mentors and mentees please send them along or comment below!

Recommended reading:
Here's a great article by Greg Smith entitled "How to Create an Effective Mentoring Program" which gives a wonderful overview of a typical mentoring program.

Here is another article which is quite comprehensive on "How to Start a Mentorship Program". The author discusses reasons for mentoring and the usefulness of establishing goals for your program. It also points you to some additional resources.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tips for starting off with a new mentee

A reader writes: "How do you engage your mentee?  What activities/discussions are good to do together early on?"

Excellent question! And an important one especially if you have someone, a mentee, who is brand new to mentoring and isn't sure if this time you are going to spend together is really worthwhile.

Before getting to the 'engagement' part of the conversation it's extremely important to set the ground rules first. Only when you've established a comfortable and confidential space for discussion can you then dive into the good stuff. I always start off a new relationship with the following rules:

1. Everything said during our mentoring conversations stays with us without exception unless explicitly stated otherwise. Without establishing confidentiality and, over time, trust it will be impossible to fully reap all the benefits these conversations have to offer. Both of you have to feel that you can talk about and say anything whether it's as delicate a topic as something against your boss, your company, yourself, etc. The freer you each feel the more in depth the conversations can be and the closer to "truth" you both get. There is no greater sin during mentorship than breaking this confidentiality.

2. Mentoring is 2-way street! I've said this before in the blog but I'll say it again. Mentoring is really a shared learning experience even if it starts out with one person 'advising' another person. I like to make clear at the beginning that I expect to learn from my mentee as much as they expect to learn from me. We all bring different talents and perspectives to the table and I like to make sure my new mentee knows that I recognize that and expect that kind of 2 way engagement.

3. If I am in the same company as the mentee I make sure they know that I will not participate in any performance or promotion conversations about them. The only way to have a 2-way barrier-free dialog is to set the rule that nothing said will be used against or for the person should that topic come up with other managers in the organization. It simply isn't fair to them or to anyone else. Our mentoring relationship stands outside of the company and the fact that we both work in the same firm is a 'coincidence'.

Now onto the fun to start off....

Most people's favorite activity, whether they admit it or not, is to talk about themselves. So I like to make the first few conversations a lot of fun for the mentee by asking them a lot of questions about themselves and actively listening to their responses.

Once the general "resume" type and logistics questions are out of the way here is a set of questions I like to ask:

  1. Why did you seek out a mentor?
  2. What do you expect to get, if anything, from a mentor?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  4. Are you happy?
These questions are focused on them and on what they need from this relationship over time. That last question usually leads off into an important direction and has provided an arc for the next set of meetings. (But not always.)

At some point early on I like to make an explicit, verbal commitment to help the mentee in any way I can. Making this commitment deliberately and early in the relationship can be really powerful. As an adult I believe it's rare to find someone that is willing to make such a commitment to help you professionally. I have literally seen people's faces light up when I've said that I'm there for them. That alone, for me, makes mentoring worthwhile.

Speaking of questions here are some questions other mentors have said they use with their mentees/clients:
  1. What does success look like?
  2. How / why were you successful this past week?
  3. Is there something you have always wanted to do but never tried? possibly never even told anyone?
  4. What would happen / what could and would you do if all obstacles magically disappeared?
  5. What does it feel like to be you?
The obvious qualities you want to exhibit with your mentees always are: 1. empathy/sympathy 2. respect 3. curiosity 4. enthusiasm. How we each do that varies but just keeping these qualities in mind during all conversations will help tremendously. Demonstrating curiosity, empathy and enthusiasm should naturally and organically engage your new mentee.

Finally a key part to ensuring engagement from a new mentee is something that is a little out of our control and that's chemistry. You both have to a certain extent "hit it off". Not every pairing is going to hit it off and that's ok. You and your new mentee may find that for whatever reason it's not meant to be. If that happens move quickly to recognize that without recrimination and send them on their way to find a mentor who'd be a better fit for whatever reason. If you don't enjoy each other's company you'll have a hard time staying engaged!

I hope this answers the question! Thanks again for writing in and keep them coming.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Determining my audience

There's nothing like 2+ weeks away from your normal, daily life to allow for reflection and a chance to approach that life with a new (or at least refreshed) pair of eyes.

Today's post is about this blog itself.

When I registered "On Mentoring" 2 years ago and when I finally started seriously blogging back in June my primary target audience for this blog were other mentors/coaches. I wanted to create a forum for the sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas, tips, stories and questions about Mentoring. I believe Mentoring is an inherently good thing - an investment that pays for itself in multiples both personally and professionally. Companies that invest in creating formal or informal mentoring environments, even if it's only to say they support the idea, tend to have happier and more engaged employees. I'm passionate about this area and if I could in some small way contribute to inspiring new mentors or growing the existing base I would be very happy.

My secondary target audience were mentees or mentees-to-be. I also wanted to inspire folks to seek out and find mentors to discover the personal and professional benefits when engaging in a mentoring relationship. As in my case today's mentees would hopefully turn into tomorrow's mentors too!

What I have found over the past six months that most of my audience (from the comments, emails, tweets, questions and personal interactions I receive) are actually "mentees-to-be". Most folks that read this blog seem to be people who'd like to have mentors for themselves but for whatever reason aren't able to find that person and so view me as their mentor. This is an unexpected but positive result!

So my question is: should I turn this primarily into a direct mentoring blog or is what I'm doing sufficient to satisfy both types of audiences? I will anyway always answer all types of questions but the answer to my question will change my approach, writing style and mix of topics to a large extent which is why I'm asking! My concern about this secondary focus is only that there are so many advice blogs out there already. Who really needs another one? Whereas a blog targeted to other mentors appears to me as more of a focused, niche area (and therefore a "good thing" in this very populated blog-o-sphere).

Please send me your advice or thoughts in any manner you feel comfortable - comments on this post, private email (, tweets, etc. I'd appreciate the feedback!

Either way I'll be back next time with one of several posts already underway. Thank you!