Tag Archives: brilliant cv

Career improvisation

Making it up as you go along is probably one of the most effective success strategies you can implement. The trouble is that patrons of the predictable try to brainwash lesser mortals like you and me with their grand narratives (tall stories) about how anyone can achieve complete control of their lives. These narratives are eagerly devoured by those wanting quick and simple solutions and those who feel the cold chill of accountability for past and future action in their roles.
Making it up as you go along is an anathema to the controllers and quick-fix folks, and those who employ this strategy consciously often have to conceal it with a cloak of plausibly logical actions whereas many use it without being completely aware of it and suppress it under a cloak post-hoc rationalisation. Making it up as you go along is seen as somehow illegitimate, shallow, ill-considered, reckless even. Merchants of mediocrity will try to sell you their flow diagrams and 7 point plans. They will encourage the use of pros and cons lists, planning tasks and simple formulas for success. They push the view that if the plan cannot be articulated in every detail, it has not been “thought through” or is the product of a fuzzy and unsound mind. We all love and draw confidence from a well-thought out plan.
With colleagues Robert Pryor and Tony Borg, we have developed a butterfly model of career development. Imagine a race track in the shape of a figure of 8 on its side that you are continuously driving around like a race track. Each journey around the circuit never exactly repeats any other. Do this for long enough and what results begins to resemble a butterfly and hence the name of the model. Imagine now that the left-hand circle on the track represents all your planned behaviour and the right hand circle of the track represents all the unplanned behaviour.
What it demonstrates is that career development is a continually developing series of planned actions which are impacted by unplanned events which in turn lead to revisions or new plans, which in turn are impacted by the unexpected and so on. The model is slightly more complex because you can circle around for periods in either the planned bit of the circuit or the unplanned bit, and then move unexpectedly into the other realm. This explains why in life we can experience periods of relative calm and predictability, and others that seem to be never ending turbulence. Overall, the point is that there is an ongoing and inevitable relationship between the predictable and the unpredictable, between pattern and surprise and between composition and improvisation.
Making it up as you go along is often called improvisation. Improvisation implies there is a structure around which you can improvise. Improvising without any framework at all simply results in a self-indulgent blast of white noise that achieves nothing other than to alienate all who witness it. There is a saying in jazz circles “improvisation is composition speeded up, and composition is improvisation slowed down.” It implies that improvisation ultimately has rules and structure, but these are loose or fuzzy enough for creativity to be invited in.
Often in jazz, the musicians establish the structure of the piece (“the head”) and then the musicians improvise around that. It is not a bad way of thinking about yourself or your organisation as a beautiful complex composition around which you can improvise.
Why is it some people seem to be able to make it up as they go along, whereas others struggle or are scared of this approach? Part of the answer lies in the concept of life purpose. Those who have a clear sense of life purpose will intuitively act in ways that keeps intact their sense of purpose, and hence purpose becomes the force that drives, directs and limits action. In a sense knowing your purpose is a bit like being able to recognise your essential tune (or core business for an organisation) – it provides the structure and sets the boundaries for improvisation. Purpose is not about goal setting, purpose defines what can become a goal, goals do not define what can become your purpose.
Getting a sense of the bigger pattern, the linkages, the limitations and the opportunities will help to inspire confidence to improvise and will also increase the likelihood that the improvisations are bold, original and creative. In other words successful.

What’s your story morning glory?

Have a look at the following descriptions and decide which best captures the truth about your career.

1. You became aware over time of a major dark power in your career, it could have been a parent, colleague, boss, or some physical thing such as a disability or the tyranny of distance. You spent a time thinking about this hinderance and what you could do about it. You spent some time frustrated and giving in to this power. After struggling and living with this power and almost giving up hope, you eventually summoned enough courage to overcome it, leading to a happier more content career.
2. You had nothing, maybe out of work, demoted, disillusioned or the perpetual underdog. Then circumstances threw you into having to deal with a crisis at work. No-one really believed you were up to it, and you struggled, but as time went on you got more confident and eventually succeeded where others failed or where others had doubted your ability. Your career improved markedly afterwards.
3. Things were going along just fine, until you became aware of something that really needed addressing through work such as an injustice or a need to find something out. You started to address the issue and met a lot of resistance. You persisted, but just when you think you were in sight of your goal, it was blocked by even greater resistance, indeed outright hostility. You took some knocks, but stuck to your guns and finally you came through, a little scarred, but able to say you reached the goal.
4. You decided on a course of action, without realizing just how hard or complex it would be. Initially everything went well, and you felt exhilarated by your progress. Then things started to go wrong, and just when you thought they couldn’t get any worse they did. You were on the point of total collapse and failure, when a miracle occured that rescued you from oblivion and delivered you a sweet victory. The learning you experienced transformed your outlook on work.
5. You were living in a world of work where you simply couldn’t understand what was going on or why. Nothing seemed to make sense and nothing you did seemed to be correct. Indeed every time you acted, it ended up going spectacularly wrong. You just seemed to see things differently to other people. Things got so bad and frustrating you felt like quitting until somebody with a new perspective came along and for the first time in ages you realised how deluded you and perhaps others had been, resulting in smoother sailing from there on in.
6. You had a nagging sense of need or desire, something was missing from your life. You responded to an offer from a third party, perhaps a colleague, and embarked on a new course of action. Initially you felt your needs were being met at last. However as time went on things started to go wrong, and that only changed when they got a whole lot worse. So bad indeed, that everything began to fall apart, eventually you were left with nothing, and feeling pretty abject. That pact with the third party was your demise.
7. You met someone who made your working life go really well for a while, and without knowing it you were not really in control anymore, and it was this other person who was calling the shots. Essentially your life was put on hold as this other person took almost complete control. Then out of the blue an innocent third party acted or said something that made you wake up to yourself and come out from under the spell. Suddenly you felt reinvigorated and back on track again.

The 7 different narratives above, are according to Christopher Booker (7 essential plots:why we tell stories. Continuum, 2005), the 7 different fundamental plot lines in the stories that we tell in all societies. In the order presented above they are: 1. Overcoming the monster; 2. Rags to riches; 3. the Quest; 4. Voyage and Return; 5. Tragedy; 6. Comedy and 7. Rebirth. Rob Pryor and myself have written a paper in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance exploring these ideas further.

From a career perspective, having insight into which plot you are using for your career narrative can be the first step in changing the plot to a more useful one for your purposes. Any one plot is merely one take on reality, and other plots might provide a better or more positive perspective to help you think about your career. So if you identified with the Tragedy story, maybe you need to start working on a Rags to riches, or Voyage and Return story instead!

Does a limp one (handshake) harm your job prospects?

Today I turn my attention to the vexed issue of limpness on the job – that is a limp handshake.  Now before you all think I have turned into some orrid little oik peddling pills of dubious provenance, I am, dear reader, of course talking about the role of the handshake in employment interviews.  Most of us have a notion that the handshake is a potent form of communication, and you do not need to be a member of the Masons to understand that a handshake can convey a lot about a person.

Personally I have extreme difficulties with handshakes because I am blessed to born into that elite club that are left-handers (recall Leonardo Da Vinci was left handed, Adolf Hitler was right handed – I rest my case!!!). Seriously I am often confronted by the handshake, because it is my habit to carry briefcases/papers etc in my right hand, and so on meeting someone – say just as I arrive at a speaker’s podium with notes or props, it is my left hand that is free.  Instinctively offering the left hand to a right-handed shaker ends up like some bizarre game of  scissor paper rock.  It is awkward.

limp handshake dead fish

But despite all my speculations that my shaking form provokes deep suspicions in my colleagues about my essential character, is there really anything in it?

Well, Greg Stewart, Susan Dustin, Murray Blount and Todd Darnold recently published an empirical investigation of the effects of handshakes in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  They rated men and women’s handshakes, and linked these to their measured personalities and also independent raters evaluations of their employment interview performance.

For men it turns out that a limp one is a very big deal that could have serious impacts on their future prospects. However that same does not apply to women. Firmness it turns out is very much a male issue.  A firm handshake for men was associated with a greater likelihood of being recommended for hire, and it seemed to work by influencing extroversion.  The effect was not observed for women.

So here is yet more evidence of the importance of non-verbal behavior in employment interviews, and yet more evidence that interviews are influenced by non job relevant factors, and also that male and female candidates are often treated in different ways in these social interactions.  So men, get a firm grip on your recruiter, and recruiters, here is yet another potentially biasing factor to consider when using interviews.

Instant interview stoppers

In Amazing Resumes  published in the USA (and in Brilliant CV  for the UK and Resumes that get shortlisted for Australasia) I use the idea of the first date as a way of thinking about what you are trying to do in a job application (i.e. emphasise the positive, eliminate the negative, and maximise the shared values and experience etc).

Selena Dehne from JIST (my US publisher) once tweeted about another great JIST book of job search and dating, her tweet prompted me to take this further and to think about those date killing comments like:

  • “you don’t sweat much for such a big build”,
  • “would you like to come back to my sheltered accommodation?”
  • “oh that, It’s just an ankle bracelet, they’ll remove it in six months”,
  • “wow your mum is really hot, do you take after your father?” etc.

What are the statements that might kill an interview stone dead. Here are a few to get you started:

  • “well I was going to put the money back in the till at the end of the month”
  • “the stocking on my head? Well I suppose I can remove it if you insist”
  • “better out than in”
  • “sorry the zipper is broken, and anyway I have nothing to be ashamed off”
  • “what are you looking at?”
  • “I know where you live”
  • “My last employer? I was hardly ever there, I hated it, but I would turn up every day for you”
  • “are there many single or available staff here?”
  • “sorry I’m late, but the bar-tender insisted on telling me his life story”
  • “hang on a sec, incoming test message…”
  • “well thats the stupidest question I’ve ever heard!”
  • “say, wont you have retired by the time I start?”
  • “can you get me a coffee sweety?”
  • “I know an excellent hairdresser, would take years off you”

Amazing Resumes/ Brilliant CV scholarly and positive review in Business Communication Quarterly

Well this is not something you see everyday!  A resume guide given a serious and extended scholarly review in a journal. I was thrilled to find this review of  my book Brilliant CV (Pearson) click here.  The review relates to the first edition, and since then there have been two more editions that have greatly increased the material covered and of course there is a special US version Amazing Resumes 2nd Edition published by JIST click here and an Australian version Resumes that get shortlisted 3rd edition published by Allen and Unwin click here

Click here to read the full review of Brilliant CV in Business Communication Quarterly