The 4 Key Combination to Effective Communication

communicatingHave you ever made a statement or a request and the result you get is completely different than what you expected?

How did that happen? How did the other person or persons misunderstand?

You were absolutely clear, crystal clear; there was no room for doubt.

Well, not exactly.

No matter how clear you thought you were, no matter how much sense it made in your own mind, you were not clear to your audience. There was a breakdown in communication.

There is a four key combination to effective communication: know your audience, know what is important to them, know how they listen and know your style.

1. Know Your Audience

If you are a parent you will or have no doubt experienced this phenomenon. When I would tell my son to clean his room I mistakenly thought that was clear. It was obvious from the result that it was not.

My best friend has two teenagers who are very close. Her son is very protective and takes a fatherly role with his sister. He mentioned not too long ago that he was frustrated because she did not open up to him as much as she used to and he felt did not listen when he gave her advice.

I had a team that was made up of a wonderful group of people all with different backgrounds, goals and stages in life. Some wanted to move up the corporate ladder, some worked to fill time, some were single parents dependent upon a paycheck, some were getting an education in a different field and some were new to the industry.

2. Know What is Important

For my son the most important item to cleaning his room is getting it done quickly.

For my best friend’s son it was being heard and appreciated for being the big brother and taking care of his sister.

For my team there were multiple factors including praise, growth, recognition, advancement or bonus.

There are no right or wrong motivations so there should be no judgement on why you need to incorporate what is important to them in your message.

If you incorporate their need into your message you are more likely to get buy in and clarity.

Although it is perfectly acceptable to give the reason “because I said so” to your children, it is not in the working world.

3. Know How They Listen

My son listens with an emphasis on omission. If I do not say it than it is not assumed or done. I learned that I had to spell out what I wanted and not assume one step logically lead to another. I made checklists. He would get frustrated and think I was oversimplifying the process; however, the result was what I wanted and the process was made much easier for him.

For my best friend’s daughter, it was triggers. Hearing her brother say things like, “You need to” or anything that took on a commanding position put up a wall. I suggested to her brother that he talk with her as her brother, from a guy’s perspective. The first time he applied this tactic she responded in a positive way saying she had not thought about the situation from that perspective and she followed his advice.

For my team the listening style varied. Some were black and white, straight to the point kind of listeners. Others were paint the picture with color and flowing lines. If I tried to use all the colors of the rainbow with the straight line listeners, I would lose them – quickly.

If I tried the black and white method with the whole picture listeners, I would confuse them and leave them without all the necessary information to complete the task. I then incorporated their needs into the communication style. In asking various team members for a report the request would vary depending upon the team member:

“We need this report to give to the management team to help them project next month’s numbers.”
“We need to get this report to management and I want you to put it together because I think it would be a great opportunity for you to learn this system, which is used a lot in the position you want.”
“We need to put together this report and I want you to lead it so management sees you as the go to person.”
“We need to get this report together and you know this system better than anyone else, I truly appreciate your skill on this.”

4. Know Your Style

I am an over-analyzer. When I look at a challenge I see it from a multitude of angles, possibilities, challenges and options. I could have several scenarios running through my head at one time. My brain takes multi-tasking to another level. If I were to verbalize my thoughts it would make other people’s heads explode.

My natural inclination is to give all the details – paint the picture with all the colors of the rainbow and every possible twist and turn. It was only from an awareness of my natural communication style that I could learn how to communicate in the straight line method.

Self-awareness gives opportunity for growth and an improved skill set. I am now able to fluctuate between the two for the most effective communication style for my audience. Yet there was one more factor that I need to add: learn to ask and take responsibility.

Learn to Ask and Take Responsibility

Sometimes just a little tweak can make a huge improvement on communication, respect, trust and results. Instead of barking orders, you engage and gain buy in. This builds respect, which in turn leads to shared accountability for the task and a greater effort for the desired result.

It is not always easy to determine a listening style and adapt your own communication style to your audience. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to ask your audience.

When I first work with a team or individuals I often will ask questions like, “does that make sense?” “what do you think?” “how do you see this?” Ask questions that will give you clues to what is important to them, if they like colors or black and white and how they listen.

I also put the onus on me. I will tell the group or individual that I know that sometimes my communication is not clear, what I think in my head is not the same that comes out of my mouth so I want to make sure they can understand me and we are on the same page. I reiterate that it is important to me that I communicate effectively without overkill.

This way I have set the stage that what they think is important, I am not trying to bully or demand rather I am looking for engagement and commitment and I am willing to change my methods for what works best for them.

I also take responsibility to get more information from them to make sure I do not drop the ball in receiving information, not just giving it. If something is said that could possibly be taken in more than one way, I ask. I preface with “I am not challenging you or doubting you, I just want to make sure I fully understand…”

Letting a boss know that I want to do a good job so I want to make sure that I am clear on expectations goes a long way and is much better than assuming and screwing it up. I have assumed, I have screwed up – it is not pretty nor is it fun.

This is in direct conflict with good ol’ Abe in better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. I would rather look like an idiot for a moment and end up being on the same page.

Sometimes leadership feels they have to know all the answers and get it right every time. Take away that title and you are still human. People have different motivations, communication styles, expectations, fears, ambitions, goals and motives. How can you possibly know all this information without asking?

Do not be afraid to ask, to go out on a limb and tell your team that you do not always know the best way to communicate and for that you need their help. I have yet had an occasion when clarifying with a team or staff member hinders my credibility or authority. It has actually proven the opposite, it has been respected because it proves I care enough about the project, its effects and the people involved to get it right, even by admitting there are things I do not know.


I hope you enjoyed this article and it provided value for you. If so, please click on the follow button so I may continue to share valuable content with you or the share buttons to share with your network.

I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at colleges, professional organizations and companies around the US speaking to leadership, sales and athletic teams; transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

10 Tips to Elevate Executive & Speaking Presence to Command a Room or Conversation

Raising boys was the best preparation for public speaking and commanding attention in one-on-one and group settings.

I learned the “Mom Voice”.

It works.

My boys include not only my son, but all his buddies who were all over 6’ tall, big, beefy, rambunctious, silly and lovable.  I am Mom to one – Jake – and Momma McDonald to many.

All the boys are in their early 20’s now, but it still works.  Saying their name in the Mom Voice gets met with an immediate response of “sorry Momma McDonald”.

A couple of years ago, one of the boys shared the power of the Mom Voice with me.  To understand more clearly, you need the visual.  Jake’s dad is a 6’4”, 250 pound, commanding presence of a man.  I am 5’ tall, sometimes reach triple digits and am very petite.

During a conversation he looked at me and said, “You know momma, you would think that we would have all been afraid of Jake’s dad growing up, but we were all terrified of you.”

It works.

Teaching the Mom Voice to my clients helps them establish presence, without being overly dominant.

It is simple and effective and with a little practice, easy to master.  Here are 10 Steps to learning how to command a room or conversation:

1. Lower your octave

It is no coincidence that many of the voice response systems are created to recognize and better respond better to male voices.  The octaves are lower.  A lower octave commands more attention.

2. Slow your speech

My normal talking speed is fast or “what the heck did she just say” when I get excited.  Jake told me once, “talk slower!”  I told him to listen faster.

Make a deliberate effort to pronounce each word.  To help in practicing slowing down you can download a metronome app, set it at about 60 and have it playing in the background to give you a sense of rhythm.

Being deliberate in speed triggers your audience to tune in.

3. Pause

One of the most powerful actions you can take when speaking to an individual or group is pause.  Allow your words to sink in, allow your listener(s) to think about it and take a moment to read their responses.

4. Know when to stop

The biggest problem most people have in interviewing is talking too much.  They have an insatiable need to fill in the pauses with more words essentially having a case of verbal diarrhea and digging themselves in a hole.

When you have made your point, stop talking.  Allow your audience to think about what you have said and how it applies.  It  helps you maintain control of the conversation or talk.

5. Limit hand gestures

Hand gestures can emphasis a point; however too many and you may come across as insecure, nervous or just had way too much coffee.  Be deliberate in your gesturing.

6. Remain open

Fight the tendency to cross your arms or use any other body language that communicates shutting down or not listening.

7. Relax

Take a moment before your meeting or talk to take a deep breath.  When you exhale, imagine your breath is a wave of relaxation from the top of your head all the way to your toes.

8. Stand tall

Let your shoulders relax, back straighten and head lift slightly.  Do not lean on tables, podiums or door frames.  Good posture projects confidence.

9. Smile

During a positive moment in your conversation make sure to smile.  A genuine smile exhibits engagement, a relaxed demeanor and confidence.

10. Engage

Ask questions of your audience and listen to their answer(s).  Use the information to respond accordingly, even if this means backtracking or going off topic for a moment.  This conveys to your audience that are listening and respect their time and input.

One last tip: when practicing these tips, do so in the bathroom.  Really.  Watch yourself in the mirror to identify any “tells” that might suggest insecurity.  The acoustics are also great to determine your octave and practice at different levels.  The last bonus – you can shut the door and keep distractions out while you focus on you.


Lisa K McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer

You Can Plan and Prepare but You Can Not Control

Preparation and planning are wonderful things.  They make us feel in control, in charge, confident and sometimes invincible. 

Then your dogs pee in the middle of your ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  More on this later.

Keys to successful interviews, client presentations, performance reviews or speaking engagement hinges on preparation, this I do not argue.

What happens when it does not go exactly as planned or anticipated? 

That, my friends, will set you apart. 

Those are the golden opportunities, not horrific destruction of careers!

It is in those moments that you can truly shine. 

I believe that when glitches happen, it is life giving you an opportunity to show what you are really made of, why you are the person for the job.

Technical glitch during a client presentation or a speaking engagement?  No problem, you know the material, you are passionate about what you do!  See this is the opportunity to genuinely show your expertise and commitment by landing the plane without the aid of technology!

In an interview and you say the wrong thing or go down a rabbit hole?  Grab this opportunity to show grace under pressure and humor in guiding the conversation back to the original point and establishing yourself as a cool-as-a-cucumber prospect with quick wits able to turn a potentially bad situation right back around to point.

Those moments happen in the everyday world of business, not just the major milestones.  Can you be prepared for these unexpected flubs?  Not really, but you can recognize that they happen and allow yourself some slack in just going with it the best you can.

Odds are, when you are relaxed and let your natural expertise guide you, you will end up looking better than had everything gone exactly as planned.

I took a two-month hiatus from speaking and workshops to focus on a new coaching program.  Not being in front of crowds for a while, I let my guard down about life’s flubs. 

Lucky for me, I have dogs to remind me that these little opportunities are always present. 

This past weekend I accepted my son’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and we planned it out.  He came by to video it for me, I prepared two checks (one for ALS and one for American Cancer Society), we picked a spot in the backyard and planned the shooting before the rain came. 

The video, it seemed, went off without a hitch.  Mission accomplished.

My son wanted to see my reaction, so we watched the video.  What we saw instead were two of my dogs peeing all over the place and the third one trying to get the ice out of the bucket. 

There was no way I was going to allow my son so much pleasure in dumping another bucket over my head, so we just posted it as is. 

What followed was several private messages and some on Facebook all praising the pups for absolutely stealing the show.

Apparently, they knew what they were doing. Watch the video by clicking here:

ALS Challenge upstaged by dogs

I did not shine or be brilliant, I got upstaged by peeing dogs.  But because of this, the video was seen and shared more than it probably would have been without them.  I am hoping this translates to not only additional support for ALS, but also the American Cancer Society (near and dear to my heart).

Thank you puppies for the reminder of life’s unexpected flubs and giving me a good laugh.


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer


You are Going to Make a Mistake – Which Keeps You From Making a Mistake

mouth taped shutTwo of my favorite things to do are speaking and seminar facilitation.  I absolutely love the interaction with the audience, the feedback, the questions, the “a-ha” moments and the energy.

The funny thing is, I used to dread getting up in front of people and speaking.

I will admit, one of the things that makes it easy for me to speak to large groups or lead workshops is the fact that I am talking about branding, messaging, value, voice, getting hired by the right company or clients – these are all things that I am passionate about.  Loving what you do makes it much, much easier.

I think one of the most terrifying events for most people is interviewing.

You know the subject very well, you.  You know the subject intimately therefore should make the interview easier, right?

Not so much.

There is so much pressure in interviewing.  It is a make or break type situation.

Screw up the interview, you don’t get the job.  Oh sure, no pressure there.

So we worry, we make notes, practice and have our answers practically memorized.  We talk ourselves into believing we are going to ace the interview, like a pro, no mistakes – nail it.

That is where the trouble begins.

There is this little voice in our head, it is not always a happy-go-lucky cheerleading voice.  Sometimes it is just a nasty little bugger.

Think about writing your resume and you write about one of your accomplishment.  You are honest and forthright and take deserving credit.  What happens when you re-read it?  That little voice in your head condemns you.  It says something like, “Well, don’t you think you’re special?” in a sarcastic or even Church Lady voice.

So when we tell ourselves, “I am going to ace this interview” that little voice turns into the nasty bugger and says, “Really?  So you are not going to get nervous, have sweaty hands, worry that you are soaking through your shirt….”  Nasty, I tell you.

What ends up happening?  We make mistakes.  We travel down rabbit holes.  We fret over our palms and shake hands awkwardly.  We do the things we fear the most.

Why?  Because we told ourselves to do so.

Have you ever had a time that you were doing something with another person, and the last thing that person told you before you performed an action was to NOT do what you did not want to do anyway?

Well, that just sounded confusing, let me give an example.

I built a garden this Spring.  Before I planted I needed to build a privacy fence to keep my pups out and a gate to get in.  One of my best friends is an expert at these things so I asked for help.

My friend is about twice my size so it made sense when we were cutting out the outline of the toppers for the arbor that I do the cutting with the jigsaw and he would hold the wood.  We had everything lined up, all safety measures were taken and right before I began the cut I heard him say, “Don’t cross over the line and cut on the inside.”

Guess what I did.

Yep, crossed over the line and cut on the inside.

He said, “I told you not to do that.”

To which I replied, “Which is why I did it!  If you never would have put that thought in my head it wouldn’t have come out through my hands!”

I stopped as soon as I did and we were able to make it work. Back to interviewing.

The secret to not making a mistake is to know you are going to make a mistake.  Agree with the little nasty voice.  It then loses its power.

Realize that you just might get off track, go down a rabbit hole or answer a question in a way that they had not intended.

It happens.  You will survive.


The moment you realize you have made an error – stop.  Compose yourself, make light of it, get back on track then hush.

I recommend, and personally use, a bit of self-deprecating humor.

I was giving a seminar once and went off on a tangent.  I have shiny syndrome so this is not completely unexpected.

When I realized I was wondering off topic, I stopped, smiled and said, “The blond isn’t natural, but the behavior is…now back to our original point.”

People smiled or had a little giggle and forgot about it.  We got back on track and in the end, many gave me great feedback that it was very helpful.  No one mentioned the rabbit hole.

If you are not comfortable with that, try saying something to the effect of, “I apologize, I am not sure how I got over here, but let me get back to your original question” then continue.

They will not remember the mistake if you do not make a big ordeal out of it.

And please, for the love of all things holy, do not, I repeat – do not try to make up for a mistake in a follow up thank you letter!

The last thing you want to do is remind them of your flub!

Realize that you might make an error or two, be comfortable with it, know how to get yourself out of it and the fear loses power.  That little voice just shuts right the heck up and you really do ace the interview!


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer



In Support of a Bad Self-Introduction

I have given classes and been the guest speaker at events to discuss introductions. The elevator pitch as it is most commonly known. Normally I discuss how to craft this short introduction for a variety of scenarios in a manner that engages your audience. If you can gain interest with your introduction you normally can engage in a conversation which in turn leads to a more solid connection.

Today; however, I will make an argument for the flip side of this. I am an analyzer, I know this and honestly I am okay with it; but what it means for this blog is that I try to see all sides of a situation. I really do try to see the validity of each possible perspective.

As I meet various individuals in different situations I realize there are valid reasons for having a flat intro. This can come in handy so, in an effort to be supportive to those who cling to their intro of a title or who they work for I will attempt to do you justice. So here are some of the reasons that support this notion:

I have no interest in talking to you.

Responding to the question, “And what do you do?” with a response of “I work for a builder.” is a pretty good indication that you have no desire to continue any further with the conversation. If the other party was just being polite and actually has no desire to talk to you either they can honor your unspoken request with a simple response of the non-committal half-noise/half-word of “Ah”.

I have no idea what I do.

Perhaps you have responded that you work for a builder, but it is not that you do not want to talk to the other party but rather you really do not have a clue what it is that you do. It can happen, I was reminded of this again Tuesday, but I digress.

If you have used the “I don’t want to talk to you line” but did not mean it and follow it up with an “I do want to talk to you gesture” such as pulling up a chair or moving a bit closer than the other party might pick up on this and ask, “So what do you do for the builder?” giving you the opportunity to continue.

Responding with some new vague response can clarify the situation, such as “I am a salesman.” Ah-ha! The real reason comes through, it is not that you do not want to talk to the other person, you just have no idea about the topic at hand – you.

If the other party is astute enough to decipher your reasoning they can help you out by saying the non-committal response now, as in “That’s nice.” You are actually helping the other party. This little game of 20-questions-to-figure-you-out can be quite exhausting.

I have enough business, thank you very much.

Perhaps you live in the land of plenty and just have no need for any potential business, yea you. And this strategy of introducing yourself as your title or by the company you work for is just the ticket to make sure pesky potential prospects do not bother you with attempting to get more information on just how you could help them.

I’m not very good at what I do.

By being as non-committal as possible you actually might hide the fact that you stink at your job. If you had to have an in-depth conversation about what you do or how you should bring value to others there is the possibility that the other party could discover that you are hanging on by a thread.

You clever little minx you, no one will ever guess that you are a quarter away from losing your job due to poor performance by being as vague as possible!

I’m extremely awkward and have no idea how to talk to grown ups.

Perfect ploy for those that have not graduated to the adult conversation arena: vague, non-committal responses. Continuing in this way will guarantee you a short evening just in time for you to get back home, rock out to some Michael Bolton, play a few games on the Atari before the Happy Day’s reruns come on and you can slip into you leather’s to pretend to be the Fonz – Aaaaay.

Yes, I suppose there are situations that call for using a flat introduction. Thank goodness those that cling to these elevator speeches, per say, as they allow others in the room to move on to those that actually want to engage in conversation.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.

Tips to Help Stay on Track When Looking for a Job

Delay, avoid, procrastinate, ignore….then you need something NOW. I see this time and time again with those in transition. I have had numerous clients that apply this approach with their resume. They delay or hesitate on reviewing the resume I have prepared, or avoid giving me pertinent information and it just lingers. Until I get the call late in the day or evening that, holy cow, I need to send my resume to a company TOMORROW, can you do it tonight? Where were you last week when I was asking for the information?? One of my favorite phrases is, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part”. Seriously, did you forget you were in transition and an opportunity can happen any time any where?? (And yes, I always get it done)

So for those of you that are going through this little traumatic experience at the time you are reading this, shame on you! You should know better. For those of you that have been there, let’s see what we can do to make sure this does not happen again. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are prepared for that opportunity at any time.

1. You should make sure your resume is updated and appropriate at all times. You should have more than one resume and it will be modified for the job and skills for the position for which you are applying. For example, you may be a manager but there are different types of managers. Some management styles fit better with certain organizations rather than others and you will need to decipher what skills and qualifications each company feels are important for their organization. For example Company A may be seeking a very hands-on manager who is skilled at team building, open communication and being able to perform the work as well as lead it. Company B may be seeking a very analytical, time and information sensitive leader who is skilled at direction, delegation and oversight. Completely different perspectives and having a one-size-fits-all resume will not benefit you in the least.

2. You should make sure you understand your resume and can sell it – i.e. sell you. Your resume is your sales brochure. Have you ever encountered a sales person who constantly has to refer to a manual or sales brochure to tell you the highlights of the product? Not very convincing, huh? If I am in the market for a new digital camera, I do not want someone to read me the manual, I want someone who can explain it in my terms, show me the best features – in other words sell me on it. Then I can glance through the brochure to get further information and reinforce my “need” to buy that camera. You, in this little example, are the digital camera and the sales person.

3. You should have your sales materials with you at all times. Sales materials: that means resumes, business cards or skills cards. No, I do not suggest that you hand out your resume at networking events (unless it specifically requests that you bring them), but you should have your resume with you to read through again before you go into a networking event just as a refresher and boost. When you are at casual networking (i.e. ball games, concerts, gatherings, picnics – wherever) you should have your skill summary cards or business cards with you to be able to hand out to someone if they would like to contact you.

4. You should have a tracking sheet. Job searching stinks. You can get to the point that you feel as though you sent out one hundred resumes last week and did not get one single response. I have literally heard this line numerous times. Keeping a spreadsheet of your activity not only helps you gain a bit of perspective, it also helps you keep track of who you have spoken to, what companies you have applied to, when, what positions, what follow up actions you need to take and any important information relevant to your search. Knowing that you sent a resume to Company A last week, perhaps it is time to follow up – you would know this if you were keeping track of your activities.

5. You should be training your friends and family as Sales Associates. One thing I ask people when I teach classes is, “Do you friends and family know you are looking for a job?” Of course everyone looks at me like I am an idiot and say, “Yes, of course”. So my next question is, “If I were hiring and met them casually, would they know what key word I might say that would let them know immediately to give me your name and number?” Normally, those in my class now have a bashful look on their face for thinking I was an idiot only moments before… The point is, if you tell me you are an IT person looking for a job that means nothing to me. And quite frankly it would be a weak introduction to someone looking for a programmer to tell them that I know someone in IT, but no idea what they do. You need to be specific and make sure people understand that. If I were going back into the financial industry telling you I was a manager tells you nothing! But if I were looking to go back into Compliance, now you have a better clue. If I told you that I would love to work for a mid-sized financial company rather than one of the big boys in banking, investments or insurance there is another clue. And if I told you that I was looking to work in the area between and including Indianapolis to Anderson, there is another really good clue. You now have several key words: Compliance, mid-size, investments, insurance, banking, Indianapolis, Anderson – see where I am going here? Never assume everyone knows what you mean, make it clear.

6. You should make sure your references are prepared. Here is another question I ask during class, “Do you have your references ready, you have asked their permission” Again, normally a yes. Then I ask, “Have you asked them what they would say?” The answer to that one is almost always no. In fact, in between 60-80 classes I have only heard two people say yes. The purpose is two-fold. One, you want to make sure what they say and how they say it will be perceived correctly. I am a sarcastic person, it is who I am and I know it. I have to temper it and keep it under close supervision. If one of my references said I was a great leader, motivator and trainer with great sarcastic wit, the prospective employer may not like that whole sarcasm thing. The second reason is those references may see something in you that you may not see yourself. What if one of your references told you that no matter how stressful a situation got you were always cool, calm and collected and they always looked to you at those times. That sounds like great things to emphasize in a resume or cover letter don’t you think?

7. You should only offer what you can produce. Undersell and over deliver is an old motto. In this situation what I mean is do not get so involved in the job search and networking that you have booked yourself out of quality time for self, family, friends, and quality leads. I have seen people get so wrapped up in networking that they are professional job seekers with no real ability to make real connections and possible inroads to future opportunities. Do get out there and meet with people, do not make it a practice that you have no real results or you neglect the things that are important in life. If you are meeting with so many people at all times and if you are promising to follow up, are you able to keep up with the schedule you set? Sometimes we are our worst enemy. Here’s another old motto to help with this one: work smarter not harder – i.e. network smarter, not harder.

8. You should look at alternative ideas to building connections and seeking opportunities. Volunteer. Give yourself a chance to do something you love, help other people, animals or the environment and enjoy it. By doing something that you enjoy, you will meet other people with similar interests and you can get to know them through this common connection. From there, you can find out what they do when they are not volunteering and maybe they work for a company you are targeting or knows someone who does. You just never know.

9. You should be keeping up to date. I emphasized your resume earlier, but now I am expanding on this concept. You should make sure your skills and techniques are up to date. Not just job skills, but networking and interviewing skills as well. Make sure if you have a business social media page it is up to date. Are their groups or discussions you can join or be a part of, and if so, are you active and up to date in what they are discussing? Are you up to date in what is going on in your town, city, state and nation? Events outside our immediate life impact everyone and you certainly do not want to be caught off guard. It would be disastrous if in an interview the interviewer makes small talk and says something to you about the terrible oil spill and you reply, “Yes, the Exxon situation was very sad”.

These are just a few things that you can do to make sure you are prepared and ready when that wonderful opportunity comes your way, or even a maybe/iffy one shows up. If you are in transition your job right now is to get a job – don’t fire yourself by being unprepared!

The Limits of a Positive Attitude

I consider myself a generally positive person and most people who know me I think would agree with that. I smile a lot, I have a lot to smile about and smiling makes me more positive. My dog, Misfit, even smiles (great picture of that, huh?) Although, keep in mind I do have teenagers, so it is often tested and the glass half full thing is sometimes hard to come by or there is a debate of what liquid is in the glass! The point is this: I try to be positive, look for the good, see the good in people and do unto others. Having said all that, some days it is the most magnificent accomplishment that I made it out of bed and I am okay with that.

Sound contradictory? Perhaps, but let me explain. You see, I believe in the power of a positive attitude. I do believe that your attitude going into a situation does have an impact on your result. However, I also realize there are other factors at play. For example, I have not worked out in a very long time – very, very long time. Now, when I become more active on the weekends, I see the effects. If Manuel and I want to go walk around downtown playing tourist in our own town, I am going to tire out very quickly because I am an out-of-shape slug. No matter how positive I want to be, I am a slug and I will be a tired, grumpy, sore slug after several hours of running around.

When you go on a job interview your positive attitude will absolutely serve you well. However, it will not take you far if you are not prepared. You can only smile and nod so much while the person across the desk realizes you have no idea about the company that you applied to and are now seeking a job from – they pick up on that pretty quickly.

Then there will be interviews that you are completely prepared and absolutely nail it. You know the history, the position, the key attributes they are looking for, you have all the right answers – you rock. Then you do not get a call back or they decided to go with someone else. It happens. And here is where the limits of a positive attitude come into play.

On one hand you can force feed yourself a positive attitude enough that you are so delusional that you think it must have been that you were not positive enough. You had doubts about some of your answers and that must have ruined your interview – just thinking those negative thoughts. Tomorrow you are going to be even more positive, force yourself to think only happy thoughts and never let a negative thought into your mind and THEN you will get that job. Oh, sweetie, you are in for a really long hard fall back to reality. You have lost the boundary line and now look like my little dog Misfit chasing her tail until she makes herself so dizzy she wobbles. It happens I have video to prove it.

On the other hand, you did not get the job, you are bummed and give yourself a moment to grieve….ok, time is up. Now, look back and see this for all sides. You had doubts, so re-examine those. Get back in touch with the interviewer and ask them your questions. If they did not tell you a specific reason why, then ask them – were they looking for a different training background or more experience? ASK! They may not tell you, but give it a shot.

You did your best. Let’s review that statement. You did your best. Pretty strong words, can we always say that about our actions? So you can be positive about the fact that you gave it everything you had and sometimes these things do not work out, but on to the next one! Be positive of your performance, your efforts, your research and your preparation, but do not take this to the extreme that your positive attitude alone is going to make or break you.

I walk into every situation being positive, that a wonderfully positive result will come of my actions. Guess what, it does not always happen. But I know there are other opportunities out there, and if I keep trying and working at it, those will happen. I am positive that I will fail, but I am also positive that I will learn from my failures and tomorrow will be a better day. Now, if you will excuse me, I really need to get off my slug butt and exercise!

Hey New Year – Wait for Me!!

A new year, seriously? Already? Wait, I was not ready! It was just Thanksgiving and I had a great list of things to do, put up all the Christmas decorations, bake holiday cookies, make goodies for my neighbors, send out all my holiday cards early…. Then it was Christmas, holy cow, I have so many things that I had on my 2009 list that I only had five days to accomplish! Now it is the New Year? It is already the middle of January – wait, let me catch up!

So if you are wondering, no I did not make any New Year Resolutions. I never do. Not because I run out of time or I am a slacker with no goals, I just realized a long time ago that making a years worth of resolutions at one time is daunting – especially if there is no short planning to back it up! Oh sure, you are normally all jazzed to start fresh and go full steam ahead (look at the parking lots at your local workout facility), but by February or March you are all fizzled out. Then deflated. Then driving by the local workout facility and giving it dirty stares.

So I learned to cut myself a break. Now, I do start out with some lofty goals for the year, but having a lofty goal and setting it in motion are two completely different things. Can’t eat the elephant in one bite, you know. So I break it down to segments, in four quarters of the year. It is much more manageable and obtainable. I am an example kind of girl so let me give one here. A typical New Years Resolution.

Let’s say that your resolution is to loose 20 pounds this year – period. Let the diet begin. Okay, great. But then what? How are you going to do that? What kind of goals are you going to set? How will you know when you achieve them and in turn help propel you to keep going? What about if instead you tried this: your overall goal is to lose 20 pounds this year. In the first quarter of the year you will cut out sweets and white breads through the week, walk three times a week and drink two more glasses of water a day. Not focusing on the weight here, but the habits. Then at the end of the quarter you can measure your progress then check out the scale. Dropped 7 pounds? Awesome, you are ahead of the game. You can continue with this plan for the next quarter or decide to increase your walking to four times a week and add more fruit into your diet on the weekends. Check yourself out at the end of that quarter – whoo hoo, you are looking awesome and feeling good! The point is, have a plan, measure your plan appropriately and adjust from there.

How do we do this in the job search world? Set a goal to be employed in 2010. Great lofty goal, right? So now, let’s break it down into quarters. For the first quarter you are going to attend two networking events a week and meet three new people at each event. Within two days after meeting these three people decide who you would like to get to know a bit better and reach out to them for a one on one. You will also attend one free training session a month. The training can be on job search or related to that or for a skill (for example a computer application) or even something fun – a free cooking class. Track your progress and guess what, look at you. You have met 24 new people a month! That is (given a rounded four weeks in a month) 72 people in one quarter! Now, let’s say that out of each one of the three, you met with one person for a one on one – get out of your way – you have started to establish 12 new relationships!! And not only that, you have learned something new three times this quarter by attending a class. Not bad, kid! How are you going to top that for the next quarter?

Set your goals, track your goals and pat yourself on the back for your achievements! At the end of the year if you follow the path of your first quarter – you will have met 288 new people this year! And, you will have begun to establish and established relationships with 48 people. Can you grasp this? That would be 48 people who are getting to know you and what you are looking for and working for you by spreading the word of knowing this great person! Way to go kid!

**side note** I always read my blogs to my fiancé before I publish. In case any one else is thinking this, he beat you to it – the first words out of his mouth after he heard this is, “There is a lot of math in there!” Yes, I am a numbers freak, but just focus on this” 288 new people – 48 new relationships.

Tools in Your Toolbox

My dad was a diesel mechanic, when he died he was head of the shop for CCX, a damn good mechanic. He could fix anything. I grew up around tools, the smell of oil, grease, tools, knowing the importance of keeping them clean, putting them away properly and taking care of them. I learned the importance of tools; you can do anything with the right tool. I was comfortable taking some tools and scraps of wood or whatever I could find and see what I could build. I knew how to use tools and what I did not know I liked to ask. (When I was 14 I asked him to show me how to hot-wire a car although much to my chagrin he did not). I have my own tool box, circular saw, jig saw and yes, I have used them well – a couple of years ago I built floor to ceiling bookcases with a bench seat in the middle thank you very much. But the point of this early rambling is that I learned the value of tools from my dad. I also learned the strength in the truth from my dad.

Now that I am much older I carry those same lessons from my dad to other tools. You will hear the message of tools in your toolbox. For a job seeker there are many tools – your resume, your elevator speech, your mentors, your fellow co-workers, employment agencies, recruiters, networking groups – just to name a few. Today I am going to focus on employment agencies and recruiters.

Let me clear up one thing right now – employment agency does not equate to Temp Agency, although there is a time and place for these companies as well. There might be negative connotations about agencies and recruiters and some of those thoughts might be well deserved; however, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. I have met some wonderful people in both industries and they are very passionate about what they do and why. If you have not had a lot of experience with either it might be intimidating to try to figure out who to work with and why or even if you want to consider them in your toolbox.

First, go to the agency or recruiter’s website to check them out. There are many agencies that look to fill a need – a professional in a great industry and fantastic position. There are opportunities for office personnel, accounting, all level managers, to name just a few, for many different industries. These are top-notch positions. There are also recruiters who will not work with those seeking employment. This is a good thing to know, too. Any information is good information.

Companies work through an agency or recruiter because they trust them. A hiring company may not want the hassle of having to go through hundreds of resumes to find the right candidate. They utilize the agency/recruiter to filter out the cream of the crop, those that will meet their expectations and qualifications. A good agency/recruiter will have standards and rules that you must comply with so be sure to check this out. Think about it, if they have no standards how can you expect their clients to want the best? That would be you, by the way.

I know one agency that has a rule – if they offer you a set amount of positions within the parameters that you set and you refuse them all then you are no longer a candidate for them. I like this. It is a great standard and it makes you have a frank conversation –what do you really want? And honesty is important. I do not want to hire anyone that promises me the moon. I want someone who is going to be honest and tell me the positives and challenges and then helps me help myself.

A benefit of working with an agency/recruiter is you can be honest with them to tell them your skills and wants. It is not as though you would feel comfortable telling a potential employer “I have these great skills and want to pursue a new vein – how can I get there?” You can ask the agency/recruiter what you can do to improve your lot and have real conversations. They can help you determine a good course for you at this time. They might be able to see an opportunity for you right now that may lead to where you want to go in the future. These are professionals that help cut through the fluff to find the right candidate for their client and the right position for you. Agencies/recruiters have it on both ends so they are not going to waste your time – do not waste theirs.

Let me be very honest here, they are not on your payroll so do not expect them to

1. Drop everything just because you called
2. Perform miracles
3. Bend over backwards for you when you are not willing to put any work into this

Do your homework, just like you would if you had an interview with a company. Who are their clients (not specifically, but more in industry, size, strength etc); why do they chose to work with these companies; who are their candidates; who do they place most successfully; why do they do the work they do; how do they help place you?

In talking to recruiters, many have told me that your best opportunities come from networking, but there are instances that they can help. Find out what these instances are and how you can make yourself more appealing to potential employers.

Remember, you stock your own toolbox. You need to decide what is important to you, what works well for you and how much effort you are willing to give in maintaining your tools. Just keep in mind to look into alternative tools, you might be surprised at what you find.

It is All in Your Attitude!

confidenceHave you ever heard the phrase “it is easier to get a job when you have one?” If I remember correctly the principle applied to the dating world, too (but that’s another story). Have you wondered why? Attitude. It comes through everything that you do. When you are accomplished and comfortable within your world other things open up to you more easily. Positive attracts positive. When you are stressed about finding employment, it can come across too.

Two tips I give at my workshops: when you have a phone interview do it in front of a mirror to make sure you are smiling and positive because it comes across the phone. Second: whatever your thoughts or mood when writing your resume or cover letter they will come across. If you do not feel confident, it will show.

It does not matter what my mood is before I speak in front of a group, whether it be anxious or lethargic, you will not see it when I speak. I get in the frame of mind that I am a damn good speaker, present with an abundance of energy and I will help or inspire someone in that room! Period. With that mindset I can go out and do what I do best. You won’t hear me whine that I do not feel good or that I am nervous, I save that for my wonderful fiancé at home. Poor guy!

When you are speaking to someone about a position whether that be in an interview, networking or casual conversation you need to be in that positive frame of mind. You are the best candidate, you are interviewing them for the job, they want you – there is not a challenge that you cannot answer! If you do not really believe that you can accomplish a task then guess what, it is going to come across. I love to study body language and intonation, they are so telling. Think back to when your kids were young and you knew when they weren’t quite telling you everything. You could tell even though they swore up and down they gave you the whole story. Others can pick this up on you, too.

Fake it until you feel it. Practice it in front of the mirror, with friends, with your dog – I do not care who your audience is, just practice, practice, practice that confidence! Soon it becomes second nature. You can’t sell it until you feel it, and let’s face it, you are selling your skills, your talents or abilities right now.

I love the quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” So simple but so true.

Lisa K McDonald